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New York v. United States

Citation. 505 U.S. 144, 112 S. Ct. 2408, 120 L. Ed. 2d 120, 1992 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 (the Act) sought to address disposal of radioactive waste. One provision of the Act requires the State to take title to any waste of which it is not able to provide disposal.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Congress may not “commandeer[r] the legislative processes of the States” by compulsion.


Low-level radioactive waste is a common byproduct of many modern processes. Disposal is a national issue, in that such waste must be stored for hundreds of years before further disposal becomes safe. The Act in question sought to address the problem by offering various monetary incentives to states for opening their own sites. However, one provision requires that a state take title of and assume liability for radioactive waste produced within its borders for which it cannot provide disposal.


May Congress compel the States to choose between expending state funds and enforcing a federal regulatory scheme?


No. Appeals court ruling affirmed.
The Respondents, the United States (Respondents), argued that by allowing the States to choose to take title or to dispose of the waste themselves, the take title provision is a constitutional exercise of regulatory power.
It is clear that Congress cannot force a State government to enforce a federal regulatory scheme.
It is also clear that requiring a State government to take possession of the waste is equivalent to requiring a State to spend state funds. From this, it follows that requiring a State to choose between to unconstitutional alternatives is not a constitutional exercise of federal power.


Justice Byron White (J. White), dissenting, argues that the congressional exercise of authority was in response to a mandate from the States and that the formalism adopted by the majority actually hinders Congress’ ability to respond to State requests.
Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens) argues that it is improper to say “Congress does not have the power to issue ‘a simple command to state governments to enforce legislation enacted by Congress.’”


Part of the widening federalist jurisprudence of the Rehnquist Court, New York v. United States stands for the proposition that if Congress could commandeer the States’ actions in all areas, there would be no political need for States.

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