Flow Control: Does United Haulers v. Oneida-Herkimer Violate Constitutional Law?

Date: January 5, 2007

Source: U.S. Supreme Court

At issue in the case United Haulers Ass'n, Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Auth., soon to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, is the scope of something called the 'dormant' Commerce Clause doctrine. The dormant Commerce Clause is an established doctrine of constitutional law that disallows state or local laws that discriminate economically against out-of-state businesses in favor of state or local businesses. This case is distinguished from precedent because it involves a public company owned by the municipality itself. The facts of the case are that Oneida and Herkimer counties in upstate New York require that all solid waste generated within their counties be delivered to solid waste facilities owned by the Authority which is a municipal corporation. The plaintiff argues discrimination under the dormant Commerce Clause. The U.S. Supreme Court case law is undecided on whether the dormant Commerce Clause applies to public companies and the case law is split at the U.S Courts of Appeal level. The question therefore is whether the Court will decide that the dormant Commerce Clause applies to public companies as well as private companies. A decision will require the Court to clarify the public policy reasoning behind the dormant Commerce Clause. The Court will have to decide whether the purpose of the clause is to protect against discrimination that interferes with the free market, or to protect the cohesiveness of the federal union against protectionism, or to disallow favoritism that fails to also consider the best interests of those outside of the locality. Moreover, these questions, and others, would have to be asked in the context of a public entity verses a private company. Lastly, the answers to these questions should be viewed through the lens of what the U.S. Congress could or would do about the issues raised, realizing that Congress could legislate many of these issues away. A good opinion on this case should involve a discussion, and finding, on these issues.

Transcript of the oral arguments:

Sign up to receive our free Weekly News Bulletin