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Philadelphia v. New Jersey

Citation. 437 U.S. 617, 98 S.Ct. 2531, 57 L.Ed.2d 475 (1978).
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Brief Fact Summary.

A New Jersey law prohibited other states from shipping their waste to New Jersey landfills. Several cities and owners of private landfills in New Jersey challenged the constitutionality of the law.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

States cannot discriminate against one another’s articles of commerce.


In 1974, New Jersey passed a law that prohibited other states from shipping their waste across its borders and depositing the waste in New Jersey landfills. New Jersey stated that the purpose for the regulation was to preserve its environment, as well as not overburden its landfills and thus increase the costs of waste disposal for New Jersey residents. The Plaintiffs brought suit on the grounds that the New Jersey law was an unconstitutional restriction on interstate commerce.


Did the New Jersey law prohibiting out-of-state waste in New Jersey landfills violate the Commerce Clause?


Yes, the New Jersey law prohibiting out-of-state waste in New Jersey landfills is unconstitutional because it violates the Commerce Clause. Judgment of the New Jersey Supreme Court is reversed.


Justice Rehnquist

New Jersey should be able to prohibit the importation of solid waste to its landfills because of the health and safety problems that such waste poses to its citizens.


Whatever the purpose of the statute, it may not be accomplished by discriminating against articles of out-of-state commerce, unless there is some reason, apart from their out-of-state origin, for doing so. For example, laws banning the importation of articles such as diseased livestock that require destruction as soon as possible because their very movement risked contagion do not discriminate against interstate commerce but simply prevent traffic of noxious articles, whatever their origin. The New Jersey statute is not such a law – there is no claim that the very movement of waste into or through New Jersey endangers health, or that waste must be disposed of as soon and as close to its point of generation as possible. The harms caused by waste are said to arise after its disposal in landfill sites, and at that point, there is no basis to distinguish out-of-state waste from domestic waste. If one is inherently harmful, so is the other. Yet, New Jersey has banned the former while leaving its landfill sites open to the latter. Thus, New Jersey’s legislative effort is clearly impermissible under the Commerce Clause. This holding will protect New Jersey in the future, just as it protects her neighbors now, for efforts by one state to isolate itself in the stream of interstate commerce from a problem shared by all.

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