City of Philadelphia v. New Jersey,
437 U.S. 617 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

City of Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 437 U.S. 617 (1978)

City of Philadelphia v. New Jersey

No. 77-404

Argued March 27, 1978

Decided June 23, 1978

437 U.S. 617


New Jersey statute (ch. 363) that prohibits the importation of most "solid or liquid waste which originated or was collected outside the territorial limits of the State . . ." held to violate the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Pp. 437 U. S. 621-629.

(a) All objects of interstate trade merit Commerce Clause protection, and none is excluded from the definition of "commerce" at the outset; hence, contrary to the suggestion of the court below, there can be no doubt that the banning of "valueless" out-of-state wastes by ch. 363 implicates constitutional protection. Bowman v. Chicago & Northwestern R. Co., 125 U. S. 465, distinguished. Pp. 437 U. S. 621-623.

(b) The crucial inquiry here must be directed to determining whether ch. 363 is basically an economic protectionist measure, and thus virtually per se invalid, or a law directed at legitimate local concerns that has only incidental effects on interstate commerce. Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U. S. 137, 397 U. S. 142. Pp. 437 U. S. 623-624.

(c) Since the evil of protectionism can reside in legislative means as well as legislative ends, it is immaterial whether the legislative purpose of ch. 363 is to protect New Jersey's environment or its economy, for, whatever the purpose, it may not be accomplished by discriminating against articles of commerce coming from outside the State unless there is some reason, apart from their origin, to treat them differently. Both on its face and in its plain effect, ch. 363 violates this principle of nondiscrimination. A State may not attempt to isolate itself from a problem common to many by erecting a barrier against the movement of interstate trade, as ch. 363 seeks to do by imposing on out-of-state commercial interests the full burden of conserving New Jersey's remaining landfill space. Pp. 437 U. S. 625-628.

(d) The New Jersey statute cannot be likened to a quarantine law which bans importation of articles of commerce because of their innate harmfulness, and not because of their origin. Though New Jersey concedes that out-of-state waste is no different from domestic waste, it has banned the former while leaving its landfill sites open to the latter, thus trying to saddle those outside the State with the entire burden of slowing the flow of wastes into New Jersey's remaining landfill sites. Pp. 437 U. S. 628-629.

73 N.J. 562, 376 A.2d 888, reversed.

Page 437 U. S. 618

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 437 U. S. 629.

Primary Holding

Protectionist laws are unconstitutional because they burden interstate commerce under the Dormant Commerce Clause.


Private landfill owners in New Jersey argued that the state had acted unconstitutionally under the Dormant Commerce Clause doctrine in prohibiting the importation into New Jersey of solid or liquid waste that had originated in another state. The lower court agreed and ruled that this created an undue burden on interstate commerce because it discriminated against waste products from other states. However, the state supreme court reversed on the grounds that the state was furthering legitimate health and safety concerns in enacting the law.



  • Potter Stewart (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • John Paul Stevens

Despite the importance of protecting the health and safety of its residents, a state may not use that interest to justify discrimination against articles of commerce that come from other states. Its rules must be based on criteria other than geographic origin, and this law hinges solely on the state from which similar products derive.


  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger

The state police power permits it to protect the health and safety of its residents by limiting the amount of waste that could be placed in its landfills. There are clear health issues that arise from bringing excess waste into the state from other states.

Case Commentary

Once garbage is identified as commerce, New Jersey's interest in reserving space in its local landfills makes the law protectionist on its face. This type of regulation is likely to be struck down under the dormant Commerce Clause, even if the state has a legitimate interest to support it, unless that interest is so strong that it outweighs the importance of facilitating the flow of interstate commerce.

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