United States District Court, Northern District of New York
December 7, 1990
STATE OF NEW YORK, ET AL, PLAINTIFFS,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cholakis, District Judge.[fn*] [fn*] The transcript of this opinion, delivered from the bench, has been edited for grammatical construction, organization of quotations, and augmentation of citations.
It is my intention at this time to read a decision into the
record. I know that it may seem very unusual that a decision
will be read into the record on a matter that is as complex and
involved as this case obviously is. I do not want any of the
participants to think that their positions have not been given
due weight. We have spent an extraordinary amount of time on
this one case in the past two weeks. As a matter of fact, I
dare say we have spent as much time on this single case as we
have spent on any other three or four cases combined during the
last three or four years.
I do think, however, that in fairness to all the participants
that a decision be made as quickly as possible so those parties
involved can make a determination as to their future course of
action. And I do not feel that just letting this matter sit for
any length of time will do justice to the parties or to the Act
itself. I have listened to all of the arguments presented by
all of the attorneys, and I think I have given you relatively
free reign because I was waiting to see if anyone could say
anything that would change the feeling that the Court had about
this subject after reading all of the papers, and as you know,
the papers were voluminous. As a matter of fact, if I could
sell them by the pound, I think I'd be in very good shape.
The plaintiffs State of New York and the Counties of
Allegheny and Cortland challenge the constitutionality of the
Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985, 42
U.S.Code Sections 2021b et seq., on the grounds that the Act
violates the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments as well as the
Guaranty Clause and Due Process Clause of the United States
Before the Court are numerous motions and cross-motions. At
this juncture all parties have moved for summary judgment, and
there appear to be no issues of material fact, and the case
therefore appears ready for summary treatment by the Court.
The United States in its motions to dismiss and for summary
judgment relies principally on the Supreme Court case of
Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority,
469 U.S. 528, 105 S.Ct. 1005, 83 L.Ed.2d 1016 (1985). This case calls
into question the judiciary's ability and authority to consider
challenges to Congressional power over the States. Garcia
overturned National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833, 96
S.Ct. 2465, 49 L.Ed.2d 245 (1976), in which the Supreme Court
proclaimed that the Tenth Amendment limited Congressional power
to legislate under the Commerce Clause. The Court concluded in
National League that the Tenth Amendment sheltered "the states'
freedom to structure integral operations in areas of
traditional governmental functions". Accordingly, Congress
could not displace the states' freedom by regulating "the
states as states" and limiting the attributes of state
sovereignty. Id. 469 U.S. at 552-554, 105 S.Ct. at 1018-1019.
In Garcia, a sharply divided Court rejected National League,
In short, the framers chose to rely on a federal
system in which special restraints on federal
power over the states inhered principally in the
workings of national
government itself rather than in the discrete
limitations on the objects of federal authority.
State sovereign interests, then are more properly
protected by procedural safeguards inherent in the
structure of the federal system than by judicially
created limitations on federal power.
Garcia, 469 U.S. at 552, 105 S.Ct. at 1018.
The Court in Garcia ruled that judicial review of
Congressional enactments founded on Commerce Clause powers
should be limited primarily to an inquiry of whether the
political process has failed. The Court did, however, indicate
that some additional limits might exist on Congressional action
based on "the constitutional structure". The Garcia court,
however, did not define or identify these limits apart from
citing without discussion the 1911 Supreme Court case of Coyle
v. Oklahoma, 221 U.S. 559, 31 S.Ct. 688, 55 L.Ed. 853.
The citing of the Coyle case is significant. The Coyle case
struck down a Congressional enactment which conditioned the
statehood of Oklahoma on the placement of the state capital at
a certain location. The Court acknowledged at page 565, 31
S.Ct. at 689, of that opinion that "the power to locate its own
seat of government was essentially and peculiarly [a] state
power". The holding in Coyle, however, is clearly based on the
finding that Oklahoma was being forced to do something which no
other state was being forced to do; that being to locate her
capital according to the wishes of Congress.
The Coyle Court stated in the last paragraph of its opinion
on page 580, 31 S.Ct. at 695, the following:
The constitutional equality of the states is
essential to the harmonious operation of the
scheme upon which the Republic was organized. When
that equality disappears, we may remain a free
people, but the Union will not be the Union of the
Therefore, this Court reads Garcia as allowing judicial
interdiction of federal powers over the states in the following
areas: One, when that power is the result of a defect in the
political process, and two, possibly when constitutional
equality among the states has been jeopardized.
Garcia and the 1988 Supreme Court decision South Carolina v.
Baker, 485 U.S. 505, 108 S.Ct. 1355, 99 L.Ed.2d 592 (1988),
foreclose, in this Court's view, judicial review of any
Congressional action over the states which is validly enacted
and equally applied to all states. Any review of the
substantive merits of such an action apart from an inquiry into
the "constitutional equality" of the action would require a
judicially determined definition of the contours of state
sovereignty. This Court is barred by Garcia from making such a
The United States argues that there was no defect in the
political process in the passage of the Act and that no other
judicial challenge may be made pursuant to Garcia. Plaintiff
Cortland County argues that several political process defects
exist which should invalidate the law.
First, Cortland County argues that a lack of political
accountability of Congress as regards this Act is a signal that
the political process has failed. Cortland's argument is that
Congress has passed a law which puts burdens on the states to
pass certain unpopular laws. The political "heat" as well as
the fiscal burden are then absorbed by the states rather than
by Congress, the truly responsible party. Cortland also
presents a second political defect theory in which the Congress
is portrayed as being controlled by political action committees
who have neutralized states' interests and influence.
Taking Cortland's second argument first, it is clear that the
pervasiveness of political action committees in Congress is not
the type of systemic breakdown envisioned by the
Garcia court. This argument is really nothing less than an
indictment of how the political system works. According to
Garcia, the proper remedy is not judicial intervention but the
rejection by voters of those representatives who are beholden
to the special interest groups. The "built-in restraints that
our system provides" will presumably correct this perceived
problem. Therefore, Cortland's position is, in this Court's
view, without merit.
Cortland's argument concerning political accountability is
similarly lacking in legal foundation. In the South Carolina v.
Baker case, the Supreme Court declined to define what was meant
by "political defects" but did characterize the terms as
referred to "extraordinary defects in the national political
process". Baker 485 U.S. at 512, 108 S.Ct. at 1360. The Court
in its discussion cited to a footnote contained in the 1938
Supreme Court case of United States v. Carolene Products,
304 U.S. 144, 152 n. 4, 58 S.Ct. 778, 783 n. 4, 82 L.Ed. 1234.
The Court interprets this authority as meaning that the
"political process tests" referred to problems which may have
had an untoward effect on a particular law's enactment or its
subsequent political review. If the law is validly enacted, it
may not thereafter be judicially challenged on political
process grounds unless the effect of the law restricts a state
from continuing meaningful political participation, where a
state is foreclosed from challenging the law politically. In
other words, the political process rationale for judicial
intervention only arises when the legislative/political avenue
has been functionally closed.
Such is not the case here. Nothing in the Act restricts New
York's, or any other state's, ability to operate in the
political arena and to challenge the law. This is not, in this
Court's view, the type of political breakdown or type of
extraordinary situation the Supreme Court envisioned as
requiring judicial intervention. Therefore, this Court rejects
any challenge to the Act based on the so-called "political
process defect" test.
New York State argues that Garcia left open another path of
attack other than the political process test. The State, joined
by the other plaintiffs, argues that the Court still has the
power to rule that particular laws destroy state sovereignty.
As just explained, this Court does not see how such an
argument may be sustained and be consistent with
Garcia. Plaintiffs do not allege that New York State is being
treated inequitably with other States. The State's argument,
reduced to its essence, would require this Court to dictate a
sacred province of state autonomy, and this, in this Court's
judgment, would violate the Garcia holding. In this Court's
view, any claims under the Guaranty Clause are inextricably
intertwined with the position just made in this decision, and
those claims are accordingly dismissed.
The claims under the Eleventh Amendment are likewise
dismissed pursuant to the Supreme Court holding in
Pennsylvania v. Union Gas, 491 U.S. 1, 109 S.Ct. 2273, 105
L.Ed.2d 1 (1989).
This Court is aware that the Garcia case was decided by a
divided court, that the make-up of the Court has since changed,
and that the Garcia doctrines may not survive. In fact, it may
well be this case which results in Garcia being overturned.
While this Court has problems with the Garcia holding, it is
nonetheless constrained by the precedents which it reads as
The defendant United States' motion to dismiss the complaint
is therefore granted in all respects. I believe I have an
appropriate order which will be signed and in all probability
will be filed today. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.
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