Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, the state of Arizona (Plaintiff), created a law limiting the number of railroad cars per trains as a safety measure. The Defendant, the Southern Pacific Co. (Defendant) asserted that the law violated the United States Constitution’s (Constitution) Commerce Clause.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. In deciding whether a state law – created for its safety measures – violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) will balance the benefit of the law against the burden it imposes on interstate commerce.
Issue. Are the benefits of a state law safety measure limiting the length of trains outweighed by burdens on interstate commerce?
Held. Yes, a state law that puts a significant burden on interstate commerce, yet provides no real improvement in safety, will be found to violate the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. The Supreme Court determined that the usage of trains with greater than 14 passenger cars and more than 70 freight cars is standard practice on many United States railroads. If train length was to be regulation, national uniformity in regulation, such as only Congress can impose, is “practically indispensable to the operation off an efficient and economic national railway system.” The Supreme Court also determined that the Law imposed a serious burden on interstate commerce. Also, the Law does not provide any actual safety benefits and in actuality makes train operation more dangerous. The Supreme Court also distinguishes this case from South Carolina v. Barnwell, 303 U.S. 177 (1978), which dealt with the regulation of the highways.
There has thus been left to the states wide scope for the regulation of matters of local state concern, even though it in some measure affects the commerce, provided it does not materially restrict the free flow of commerce across state lines, or interfere with it in matters with respect to which uniformity of regulation is of predominant national concern.View Full Point of Law