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Aaron B. Cooley v. The Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Pennsylvania passed a law requiring all ships entering or leaving the Port of Philadelphia to use a local Pennsylvania captain, or to pay a fine amounting to half the fee for a local pilot that went to support retired Pennsylvania pilots.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Federal rules apply to businesses that requires uniformity of treatment among several states, and business characterized by local peculiarities is governed by legislative decisions passed by the states.

    Facts.

    Pennsylvania passed a law requiring all ships entering or leaving the Port of Philadelphia to use a local Pennsylvania captain, or to pay a fine amounting to half the fee for a local pilot that went to support retired Pennsylvania pilots. Cooley (plaintiff), a ship master who was not a Pennsylvania citizen, brought suit against the Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia (defendant) to challenge the state’s regulation. Cooley argued that it was unconstitutional for the state to require him to pay half the fee of using a Pennsylvania pilot when he did not require one. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld the Pennsylvania regulations, and Cooley appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

    Issue.

    Whether Pennsylvania’s law is a constitutional regulation of pilotage in general based on the Commerce Clause.

    Held.

    Allowing Pennsylvania to regulate in this way does not negatively impact one particular industry of ships, and not all ships would be affected by the regulations. Additionally, because the regulation of local ports is of such purely local and not national character, this regulation is best served by individual state legislation and not one comprehensive plan passed by the national government. Thus the Pennsylvania legislation is constitutional, and the judgment of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is affirmed.

    Dissent.

    Congress only intended the states to regulate the pilotage issues until Congress could pass a national scheme of regulation under the Commerce Clause. Therefore, Pennsylvania’s regulation is unconstitutional because Congress intended to legislate and supersede the states on this issue. – McLean

    Concurrence.

    The ability to regulate ports and pilotage is an original power given to the states by the Constitution, as it potentially has important consequences for local commerce. Pennsylvania has the power to pass these kinds of regulations and does not need Congress to acquiesce to or approve the regulations. – Daniel.

    Discussion.

    Congress has exclusive Constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce, foreign commerce and interstate commerce can be separated into distinct categories to which different national and local rules may apply. Federal rules apply to business “of a character to require uniformity of treatment,” while “local peculiarities of ports” can be regulated by the individual legislative judgments of the states.


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