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New York v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, the state of New York (Petitioner), sought a declaration that the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendment Act of 1985 (the Act) was violative of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The federal government cannot compel a state to “enact a certain statute” or “regulate in a particular way.”

    Facts. The Act was enacted to create disposal sites for low level radioactive waste. The Act held each state responsible for designating areas for disposal of waste generated within the state or joining the federal government’s plan for disposing of waste. The Act also allowed the states to enter into compacts that would limit usage of the designated waste disposal sites to waste generated with the state. There are no penalties imposed against nonparticipating states. However, nonparticipating states could not benefit from the financial incentives allowed under the Act, were charged higher surcharges and were required to take title of waste not disposed of within its boarders or be subject to damages. The Petitioner did not participate in the waste disposal plan offered by the federal government and sought to declare the plan violative of the Tenth Amendment. The case was dismissed by the District Court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals. The Petitioner now appeals.

    Issue. Whether the federal government can compel a state to enact a statute or regulate in a certain way.

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed in part and reversed in part.
    Constitutional principles are violated when the federal government orders a state to enact certain statutes and regulate in a certain way. However, the Commerce and Spending Clause allows the federal government to directly regulate interstate commerce.
    The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) declared that the Commerce and Spending Clauses allows Congress to set forth incentives that would encourage states to participate in its programs. The Court also declared that providing the states with a choice to use the federal disposal waste plan or to create solutions for waste disposal within its boarders does not conflict with the principles set forth within the Tenth Amendment.
    The take-title provision of the Act violates the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution because under this provision, states are compelled to join the federal waste disposal program. The Act’s provision provides only two choices for the states – to either join the federal program or accept ownership of the waste. A nonparticipating state, under the Act, is vulnerable to liability damages as a result of waste not disposed of within its boarders. Congress is not authorized by the Constitution to impose such requirements upon the states.
    The Court affirms the two incentive provisions under the Act and reverses the take-title provision under the Act.

    Dissent. The Act was created as a result of a compromise between federal and state governments. Providing the states with decisional authority over its waste disposal instead of issuing a blanket federal mandate would support state sovereignty. Congress has enforced “a simple command to state governments to implement legislation” in areas such as “state-operated railroads, state school systems, state prisons, state elections, and a host of other state functions.”
    Concurrence. Under the Spending and Commerce Clause, Congress may “condition the payment of funds on the State’s willingness to take title [of waste] if it has not already provided a waste disposal facility.” Congress may also impose penalties, under the Clause, if a state does not designate a waste disposal site by the deadline imposed under the Act.

    Discussion. Although the federal government has the power to offer incentives to encourage states to participate in its programs, the Constitution does not allow the federal government to coerce a state to regulate in a certain manner.


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