New York v. United States


Radioactive waste disposal was at issue in this case when Congress passed an Act incentivizing states to dispose of the waste pursuant to Congress’s regulations.  Congress used a financial incentive for states to open their own disposal sites.  They also created a financial incentive for states who opened their waste sites to grant access to those states that did not open their own.  The law also created an incentive for the outside state dumping in the state with the waste site to own the waste and maintain title over its content.  The final “title” provision provided states not providing their own dumping sites shall assume liability for the waste damage within their own borders, if they did not comply with the entire Act.  The state of New York sued on the grounds that the “title” provision was an overtly “harsh” regulation that “coerced” states into obedience with the Act.


Whether Congress pass a law which forces states to assume responsibility for waste generated within their borders in order to incentivize compliance with a regulatory scheme.


No, “title” provision is held to be invalid.  The law effectively forced states to either comply with the Act or be forced to “take title” and be liable for the radioactive waste within its borders.  Either option forces the state government into compliance with the federal mandate, leaving no real choice at all.

Congress cannot force states to comply with their laws or regulate according to legislation without utilizing the taxing and spending clause or interstate commerce clause.  Here, neither is utilized.  Justice O’Connor argued that to allow Congress to arbitrarily coerce compliance with their laws violates principles of federalism.  The Act must have some form of constitutional authority.

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