New York v. Miln


Miln is a ship master, and is being sued for violating a New York law, for $15,000 – he had to post a bond, and be responsible for all the people that traveled on his ship.

–          Argument lies on the assertion that this power lies with congress, and this New York state law is in direct violation of constitution and congress’s power.

–          Congress enacted in 1799, and 1819 which required the masters of vessels to report on passengers and cargo transported in foreign commerce (court stated that this law was only to prevent smuggling, assure comfort of the passengers and to form an “accurate estimate on the increase of population by emigration”).

City of New York – Deny that.


Was this state law as thus enacted, a violation of congress’s power and thus unconstitutional?




The right to regulate commerce is exclusive among the states, will not be addressed.  The act is not a regulation of commerce, but of police; and that being considered, it was passed in the exercise of power which rightfully belonged to the states (10th amendment).

–  Simply, since regulating (policing) people coming into the states is not commerce, then that power belies with the states.

Court reasoning

  • Both the ends and the means, are appropriate here, do not violate the constitution, and is a power left over, in which the states now have that power.
  • Purpose of the law: to prevent paupers, and misfits from entering there states – people whom are poor, and cannot support themselves.
  • Place of operation (NY), person whom it operates for (NY), persons whom it benefits (NY) – legislation of the state is allowed to operate, police, in such a manner.
  • People who voluntarily enter a state, are not goods (i.e. slaves) and do not fall w/in the realm of commerce between two different states.
  • Operation in Gibbons, is not on the same plane as this current case – operation of state law only begins, where the federal government ends.
  • A state, has the same undeniable and unlimited jurisdiction over all persons and things w/in its territorial limits, as any foreign nation; where that jurisdiction is not surrendered to the laws of the constitution.
    • It is not only the rights of state, but there duty to advance the safety, happiness and prosperity  of its people, and to provide for its general welfare, by any and every act of legislation, which it may deem conducive to this end.
    • Municipal legislation = internal police.
  • This is not commerce, or navigation, so the states have the power to regulate the states (i.e. like California not allowing oranges in their state – to benefit them, but doesn’t really hurt commerce).


Concurring  – its enough to say that whatever the power of congress may be, it has not been exercised so as, in any manner, to conflict with state law – and until congress assumes this power, no objection can be made about this law. Until congress assumes certain powers w/in a state, this power may be exercised by the states. Cannot be void by dormant power to regulate commerce; even if it should be admitted that the subject embraced in the law fell within such power.

Dissenting (story)

  • A state cannot make a regulation of commerce, to enforce its health laws because it is a means withdrawn from their authority (outsiders, coming into their state) – saying that the state does not have the jurisdictional power to enact such laws.
  • The law of NY on its very face, is to regulate the conduct of its masters, and owners and passengers, in foreign trade and in foreign ports and places. Confesses that he was unable to ascertain any, from the reasoning of either the learned counsel, that this was not a commerce law in which congress only has the power to enact such laws.
  • The whole argument amounted to this: that if it were a regulation of commerce, still it might also be deemed a regulation of police, and a part of the system of poor laws.
  • Agrees with Justice Marshall’s decision in Gibbons – the act to regulate commerce is the power of the United States congress.
  • Full power to regulate a particular subject, implies the whole power, and leaves no residuum; and grant of the whole to one, is compatible with a grant to another of a part.
    • Legislations actions in 1819 refer to the whole power of regulating passengers ships and vessels, these regulations being all which congress have chosen to enact, amount, upon the reasoning already stated, to ac complete exercise of its power over the whole subject, as well in what is omitted as what is provided for.
    • This means that states may step in and supply all other regulations, which may deem expedient, as complementary to those of congress, thus subjecting all of our trade, commerce and navigation, and intercourse with foreign nations, the double operations of distinct and independent sovereignties, it seems to me, impossible to maintain the doctrine, that the states have a concurrent jurisdiction with congress on the regulation of trade and commerce, whether congress has, or has not legislated upon the subject, a fortiori. 

If this state law is in fact constitutional, it will adversely effect the decision in gibbons in that is regulating and controlling, in effect regulate the transportation of interstate commerce…i.e., if they have the power to lay heavy taxes on these ship master, they have the power to destroy interstate commerce (i.e. same idea brought upon in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland). These would be most burdensome on passengers, and steam boat operators and inconvenient, and would essentially give them the power to ruin and perhaps, annihilation of our passengers’ navigation.

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