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New York v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary. The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Act Amendments of 1985 required states to dispose of radioactive waste within their borders. New York filed suit, arguing that Congress did not have authority to regulate state waste management.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Congress may encourage States to provide for disposal of waste generated within their borders, but it may not compel them to do so.

    Facts. In 1980 Congress enacted a statute declaring the States responsible for the radioactive wastes within their borders and authorizing the States to enter into compacts with each other for waste disposal. In 1985 Congress enacted the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Act Amendments, which had three incentives to induce states to provide for disposal of wastes within their borders. They included (1) money that would be returned to the States; (2) continued access to certain existing disposal cites and (3) a requirement that a State take title to wastes of which the State was not able to dispose by 1996. The State of New York sued.

    Issue. Were the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Act Amendments of 1985 constitutional?

    Held. Yes and No. The Court upheld two of the three provisions of the Act.
    The financial rewards and access to disposal sites are proper incentives for the States to participate in the waste management program. The “take-title” provision, however, would commandeer state governments into service for federal regulatory purposes. Thus, the third incentive crosses the line of encouragement to coercion, and thereby violates the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.

    Dissent. Justice Byron White (J. White) stated that the Act sought not federal pre-emption, but rather congressional sanction of interstate compromises the States had reached.

    Discussion. The Framers of the United States Constitution (Constitution) explicitly chose a Constitution that confers upon Congress the power to regulate individuals within the States, but not States. To the extent that Congress tries the latter, it violates the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, as it does h


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