Brief Fact Summary. A federal statute required states to either provide for radioactive waste disposal or take title to waste made within the state’s borders. New York claims the statute is an impermissible violation of state sovereignty.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Congress does not have the power to force states to implement regulations.
Issue. Does Congress have the authority to force a state to adopt a federal regulatory program?
Held. No. Judgment affirmed in part and reversed in part.
The Tenth Amendment of the Constitution is violated when Congress directs states to regulate in a particular field and in a particular way. The Constitution does not authorize Congress to commandeer the state legislative process by compelling states to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program.
The take title provision is Congressional coercion. The monetary and access incentives are a permissible exercise of Congressional spending power. The take title provision gave a state two options. Either the state could (i) take title to the waste and risk whatever liability that followed, or (ii) regulate the disposal according to the congressional mandate. Either way, the state would be forced to implement the federal regulatory scheme and would be agents of the federal government. If Congress orders states to enact regulations, federal officials can avoid accountability if local citizens disapprove of the regulation.
Dissent. Congress is not forcing its will on the states by the regulation of radioactive waste. Instead, through the statute, Congress has ratified a compromise between many states to solve the waste disposal problem. Without this statute, another state would be forced to accept New York’s radioactive waste.
Concurrence. The Constitution enhances the power of the federal government. The Constitution does not limit the ability of Congress to direct state governments to implement Congressional legislation. Therefore, there is no reason to prevent Congress from commanding states to enforce federal standards for waste disposal.
Discussion. The majority strictly adheres to the separation of power between state and federal government. Elected officials must be held accountable for the regulations they order.