New York v. United States Case Brief

Facts of the case

The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Act Amendments of 1985 required states alone or in compacts with other states to dispose of such radioactive waste within their borders. New York State and Allegany and Cortland counties were frustrated in their compliance efforts by resistance from residents to proposed radioactive waste sites and a lack of cooperation from neighboring states. New York filed suit against the federal government, questioning the authority of Congress to regulate state waste management.

Why is the case important?

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.


Does Congress have the authority to force a state to adopt a federal regulatory program?


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 Supreme Court declared the Act unconstitutional in part, holding that (a) monetary incentives constituted permissible exercises of congressional power under the Commerce, Taxing, and Spending Clauses of the Constitution (b) access incentives represented permissible conditional exercise of Congress’ commerce power but (c) the take title clause exceeded U.S. Const. amend. X restrictions, because the take title incentive was not an exercise of congressional power enumerated in the Constitution. The take title provision of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2021b et seq., offers states, as an alternative to low level radioactive waste regulating pursuant to Congress’ direction, the option of taking title to and possession of the low level radioactive waste generated within their borders and becoming liable for all damages waste generators suffer as a result of the states’ failure to do so promptly. This provision crosses the line distinguishing encouragement from coercion, and thereby violates U.S. Const. amend. X.

  • Advocates: William B. Collins Argued the cause for the state respondents Peter H. Schiff Argued the cause for the petitioners in all cases Lawrence G. Wallace Argued the cause for the federal respondents in all cases
  • Petitioner: New York
  • Respondent: United States
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: Northern District Court of New York
Citation: 505 US 144 (1992)
Argued: Mar 30, 1992
Decided: Jun 19, 1992
New York v. United States Case Brief