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Philadelphia v. New Jersey

    Brief Fact Summary. A state law prohibiting the importation of out-of-state garbage and thus, commerce, into a state is held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A state may not attempt to isolate itself from a problem common to many other states by erecting a barrier against the movement of interstate trade. A protectionist state law is invalid if it facially discriminates against outsiders.

    Facts. Operators of private landfills in New Jersey and other states challenged a New Jersey ban which prohibited importation of waste from outside the state. The state court held the ban unconstitutional because it discriminated against interstate commerce. The highest state court reversed holding that the law advanced health and environmental objectives without economic discrimination against interstate commerce.

    Issue. Whether the New Jersey ban on importation of out-of-state waste violates the Commerce Clause.

    Held. Yes. Judgment of the highest state court reversed. Whatever New Jersey’s ultimate purpose is, it may not be accomplished by “discriminating against articles of commerce (waste) coming from outside the state unless there is some reason, apart from their origin, to treat them differently.” A state may not isolate itself from a problem common to many by erecting a barrier against the movement of interstate trade.

    Dissent. There is no basis for distinguishing the health laws under challenge here from past cases upholding state laws that prohibit the importation of items that could endanger the population of the state.

    Discussion. This law was held to be protectionist in nature rather than enacted to further legitimate local concerns with incidental effects on interstate commerce. The New Jersey law, on its face, imposes on out-of-state interests the full burden of preserving the state’s landfill space. New Jersey has overtly moved to slow or freeze the flow of commerce for protectionist reasons. Thus, the law is unconstitutional.


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