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Kassel v. Consolidated Freightways Corporation

Citation. 22 Ill.450 U.S. 662, 101 S. Ct. 1309, 67 L. Ed. 2d 580 (1981)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Appellant Raymond Kassel was director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, which enforced an Iowa statute limiting the length of vehicles using its highways. Consolidated was a Delaware corporation, which had to modify either its trucks or its routes to accommodate the Iowa law.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

If a statute appears to be non-discriminatory but the purpose or effect of the regulation is to discriminate against commerce, the statute will be invalid. A State may not protect its own local economic interests by discriminating against both out-of-state and in-state trucks.


Consolidated Freightways Corporation was a carrier whose trucks traveled through Iowa for east-west and north-south routes. Iowa’s law did not allow companies to use 65 foot double trailers. Consolidated therefore had to either use smaller trucks, detach its trailers when driving though Iowa, or divert its trucks around Iowa. Consolidated won its case in both the District Court and the Eighth Circuit.


Does an Iowa statute that prohibits the use of certain large trucks unconstitutionally discriminate against interstate commerce?


Justice Powell’s opinion: Yes. District Court judgment affirmed.
Iowa claimed its motive in enacting the statute was highway safety. The Court found no evidence that the statute in question actually served this purpose. The court found that a truck with two trailers is just as safe as a truck with one trailer. Consolidated went on to prove that a 55 foot single and 60 foot double (which Iowa allows) are no safer than a 65 foot double. They all have the same ability to maneuver, brake, and turn. Iowa’s contentions that a single trailer takes less time to pass, takes less time to clear an intersection, is less likely to jackknife, and can back up for longer distances do not prove that single trailers are overwhelmingly safer than larger trailers.
Iowa’s law causes a substantial burden on interstate commerce because it is out of step with the laws of other Midwestern and Western states. Iowa’s law cost Consolidated $2 million per year and added about $12.6 million to trucking costs for other companies.
The local benefits of this law are insubstantial because the number of goods that must be transported does not decrease with truck size. Companies must either send two trucks through Iowa or divert its larger trucks long distances around Iowa. The law’s safety goal is therefore dubious because it will ultimately cause trucks to drive greater distances, which will cause more accidents than the lack of double trucks in Iowa will prevent.
The legislators’ real motive was to protect Iowa highways from increased traffic. The law’s exemptions secured to Iowans many of the benefits of large trucks while shunting to neighboring States many of the costs associated with these trucks.


Justice Rehnquist and Justice Stewart dissenting.
Iowa’s safety argument was rational because most states regulate the length of trucks that may use their highways. The limit of 60 feet chosen by Iowa was rational since most trucks are between 55 and 65 feet.
There is not a substantial burden on interstate commerce because every State has laws regulating truck size and 17 other states prohibit 65-foot double trailers. All of New England and most of the Southeastern states prohibit these large trucks. Consolidated travels through two other states along its principal east-west route that prohibit 65-foot double trailers (NJ and PA).
The Court incorrectly second-guessed a legislative decision about what size truck is safe on Iowa roads. The Court should have asked if they acted rationally in regulating the truck size, and not whether a 65-foot double trailer is as safe as other trucks.
The Court cannot require Iowa to follow the policy choices of neighbor states. Only Congress can preempt the rational policy determination of the Iowa Legislature because Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce.
The Court did not consider the purpose advanced by the lawyers but instead the “actual” purpose, which was to protect the state. It is too difficult to judge what the actual purpose of legislators is when they pass legislation. Legislators could have more than one reason to vote for legislation. This law was not passed to achieve protectionism goals. It was passed in 1963 when very few States permitted 65-foot doubles. Protectionist motives could not have been present in 1963.
Whenever a State enacts more stringent safety measures than its neighbors in an area that affects commerce, its safety and protectionist motives cannot be separated. The whole purpose of these safety regulations is to protect the State from unsafe vehicles. If other states chose not to protect their citizens that is their business. The enacting state should not be penalized for trying to protect its citizens.
Concurrence. Justice Brennan and Justice Marshall concurring in the judgment.
J. Brennan differs from J. Powell in weighing safety regulations against the burden on interstate commerce. J. Brennan says that first the court must find the safety benefit to be illusory. J. Powell says that first one should compare the burden to the safety interests and if the safety interests are trivial then the burden should be compared to the motives behind the act.
J. Brennan found a different initial motivation for the Act than the dissenting opinion. Instead of it being a safety regulation, the entire purpose of the Act was to achieve and promote uniformity with other states in limiting the size, weight and speed of motor vehicles. The act was amended numerous times, increase the maximum allowable length from 45 feet in 1947 to 60 feet in 1971. A bill that would have increased the size even further to conform with neighbors was vetoed by the Governor, who claimed protectionist reasons for the veto. Any protectionist purpose is impermissible under the Commerce Clause.


How does one find a unlawful purpose in non-discriminatory legislation?
As in New Energy, Kassel requires a very high justification standard. So the Court tried to find out if the legislation produced the intended safety results. It concluded both that a 60 foot double truck was as safe as a 65 foot, and that the more a truck has to travel the higher the chance that there will be an accident.
Unlike New Energy, this statute was evenhanded so the majority went further and decided whether it was really non-discriminatory by looking at the legislative motives. They said the “actual” motives were protectionist because the Governor who vetoed an amendment to allow 65 foot double trailers stated protectionist motives in his speech
Kassel also used a second test because this was a facially non-discriminative statute. The second test was to weigh the safety benefits to the burdens on interstate commerce. The majority compared the actual cost of the benefits to the actual cost of the burdens.
The dissent instead argued that the balancing test is the method the Court should use when trying to find out if evenhanded legislation is a pretext for discrimination against interstate commerce. If the benefits of legislation are trivial and the costs are great, then it is safe to assume that the motives were economic protectionism. The dissent concluded that the burden was not high at all since other states had similar statutes.

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