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STATE OF N.Y. v. U.S.

December 7, 1990

STATE OF NEW YORK, ET AL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
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 Constitution.

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, concluding:

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
  Constitution.

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 ...


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