Cooley v. Board of Wardens


Congress passed a law stating that states could regulate “pilot” boats on interstate waterways.  Pennsylvania passed a law that required a “pilot” to guide them through the harbor, and provided a penalty for not doing so.  The defendants, pursuant to the PA law, took action against plaintiff.  Plaintiff defended on the grounds that the PA law was unconstitutional, pursuant to the interstate commerce clause. His argument rested on the idea that the commerce clause was an enumerated power granted exclusively to the federal government; and PA’s regulation of the waterway, therefore, violated the constitution.  The trial court found for the defendant, and plaintiff appealed.


Whether the constitution grants the federal government exclusive authority to regulate interstate waterways via the commerce clause, such that a state cannot regulate said waterways.


No, affirmed.  The test used by the court is called the “selective exclusiveness test.”  Congress may delegate its authority to the states or states may simultaneously regulate local matters not specifically addressed in legislation.  There are issues which states may address, which are unaddressed by Congress, that are very local and diverse in their nature.  Congress cannot see to every aspect of interstate commerce.  Therefore, the states may properly regulate those matters.

Leave a Reply