Maine v. Taylor,
477 U.S. 131 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Maine v. Taylor, 477 U.S. 131 (1986)

Maine v. Taylor

No. 85-62

Argued March 24, 1986

Decided June 23, 1986

477 U.S. 131


Appellee bait dealer (appellee) arranged to have live baitfish imported into Maine, despite a Maine statute prohibiting such importation. He was indicted under a federal statute making it a federal crime to transport fish in interstate commerce in violation of state law. He moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that the Maine statute unconstitutionally burdened interstate commerce, and Maine intervened to defend the validity of its statute. After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court denied the motion to dismiss and held the state statute constitutional. The court found that substantial uncertainties surrounded the effects that baitfish parasites and nonnative species would have on the State's wild fish population, and that less discriminatory means of protecting against those threats were currently unavailable. Appellee then entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving the right to appeal the District Court's constitutional ruling. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the state statute was unconstitutional.


1. Maine is entitled to invoke this Court's jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1254(2). Nothing in the language or history of § 1254(2) suggests that its scope is limited to civil litigation. The fact that Maine was only an intervenor in the District Court does not deprive it of standing to pursue this appeal, because its stake in the outcome is substantial and the controversy remains live, notwithstanding the Federal Government's decision to abandon its own appeal. Pp. 477 U. S. 133-137.

2. The Maine statute is constitutional. The federal statute under which appellee was convicted did not waive the requirement of Hughes v. Oklahoma, 441 U. S. 322, that where a state statute, such as Maine's import ban, discriminates against interstate commerce either on its face or in practical effect, the State must show both that the statute serves a legitimate local purpose, and that this purpose cannot be served as well by available nondiscriminatory means. But the evidence amply supports the District Court's findings that Maine has made both showings. Under the "clearly erroneous" standard of review applicable to these findings, the Court of Appeals erred in setting them aside. Pp. 477 U. S. 137-152.

752 F.2d 757, reversed.

Page 477 U. S. 132

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 477 U. S. 152.

Primary Holding

If there is no better alternative to protect a matter of legitimate local concern, a law may be constitutional under the Commerce Clause despite discriminating against interstate commerce on its face.


Maine prohibited bringing non-native baitfish into the state, while a federal law prohibited transporting fish in interstate commerce in violation of state law. Taylor brought non-native baitfish into Maine and was indicted under the federal law. He argued that the indictment should be dismissed because the Maine law was invalid under the Dormant Commerce Clause doctrine. Maine responded that it had no less discriminatory way to protect its fishers from non-native species and parasites that might be included in shipments of them. The lower courts disagreed on the merits of his motion.



  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • Sandra Day O'Connor

There is no less discriminatory means available to the state in order to protect its unique and fragile fishing industry from threats caused by parasites from out-of-state fish. Other types of fish that are included with the non-native baitfish might compete with native species or food or otherwise imperil their ability to survive. The state could not effectively inspect for commingling of non-native species and for parasites because the fish are so small. The state has a legitimate interest in protecting a key industry against environmental risks.


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)

The state is facially discriminating against other states because its own population of baitfish is substantial. Its burden under the Dormant Commerce Clause doctrine is significant, and the environmental effects that it cites are too vague to satisfy it. When it recognized the uncertainties in this area, the majority should have struck down the law on those grounds.

Case Commentary

The state did have a legitimate concern in restricting the importation of baitfish because it could threaten the stability of its fishing industries. Even though this has an impact on interstate trade, it has the right to act to protect these interests. Moreover, the state does not need to provide evidence of irreparable harm to establish the law's validity, as long as it is reasonable to expect that harm will occur if measures are not taken.

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