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Cooley v. Board of Wardens

Citation. 53 U.S. (12 How.) 299 (1851)
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Citation. 53 U.S. (12 How.) 299 (1851)

Brief Fact Summary.

Cooley, the petitioner, did not follow the Pennsylvania state law claiming that he was exempt from the law on the ground that it violated  various constitutional provisions.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The power to regulate commerce includes the regulation of navigation, which includes the regulation of the qualifications of pilots, of the modes and times of offering the services, of the powers they shall possess and of the penalties by which their rights and duties may be enforced.


The State Act passed in 1803 passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature required that every ship entering or leaving the port of Philadelphia engage a local pilot or suffer monetary penalties. The petitioner did not engage a pilot as required by the state law, but claimed that he was exempt because the state law violated various constitutional provisions including Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause.


Does the state law that requires that every ship entering or leaving the port located in the State violate the Constitution?


No, because the Pennsylvania law at issue was enacted by virtue of a power, residing in the State to legislate, and is not in conflict with any law of Congress. Moreover, the state law does not interfere with any system which Congress has established by making regulations. Thus, the law is valid.


The Act of 1789 provides that all pilots in the ports of the United States shall continue to be regulated in conformity with the existing laws of the States until further legislative provision shall be made by Congress. This confers on the States a power to enact a law that requires pilots for certain conducts in their State. The Act manifests Congress’ intent that the nature of this subject is not such as to require its exclusive legislation. The practice of Pennsylvania has been in conformity with the Act. The grant of Congress of the power to regulate commerce did not deprive the States of power to regulate pilots, and that although Congress has legislated on this subject, its legislation manifests an intention not to regulate this subject, but to leave its regulation to the States.

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