RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Northern District Court of New York
DOCKET NO.: 91-543
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
CITATION: 505 US 144 (1992)
ARGUED: Mar 30, 1992
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1992
Lawrence G. Wallace - Argued the cause for the federal respondents in all cases
Peter H. Schiff - Argued the cause for the petitioners in all cases
William B. Collins - Argued the cause for the state respondents
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.
Does the Low-Level Waste Act violate the Tenth Amendment and the "guarantee clause" of Article Four?
Media for New York v. United StatesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 30, 1992 in New York v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 19, 1992 in New York v. United States
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 91-543, New York against the United States and companion cases will be announced by Justice O'Connor.
Sandra Day O'Connor:
These cases come here on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
To encourage the states to attain regional self-sufficiency in the disposal or radioactive waste, Congress enacted the Low Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985.
The Act includes three sets of incentives to encourage the states toward this goal.
The first is monetary grants.
The second is permission to deny access to waste from other states.
And third, should a state not achieve self-sufficiency in the disposal of radioactive waste by 1996, a requirement that the state take title to always generate it within the state.
Petitioners, the State of New York and two of its counties, filed this suit to obtain a declamatory judgment that the Act is inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment.
The District Court found the Act constitutional and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
In an opinion filed today, we affirm in part and reverse in part.
While the Constitution empowers Congress to hold out incentives to the states in order to urge the states to regulate in accordance with federal interest, the Constitution does not authorize Congress to mandate directly that state governments regulate in a particular way.
Applying this principle to the three challenged provisions of the Act, we hold that the first two are permissible methods of encouragement but the third, the requirement that the states take title to the waste, is a direct mandate to the states that exceeds the authority of Congress.
The take title provision is, therefore, inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment's reservation to the states of those powers not delegated by the Constitution to Congress.
While a shortage of disposal sites for radioactive waste is a pressing national problem, it is one that may be addressed by Congress in any number of ways that do not require state governments to implement federal legislation.
This provision is severable from the remainder of the Act, however.
So, the rest of the Act may remain enforced.
Justice White has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part in which Justices Blackmun and Stevens have joined; Justice Stevens has also filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.