Although the Commerce Clause is by its text an affirmative grant of power to Congress to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, the Clause is also recognized as a self-executing limitation on the power of the states to enact laws imposing substantial burdens on such commerce.
Petitioner was an Alaska corporation engaged in the business of purchasing and logging timber and shipping the logs into foreign commerce. It did not operate a mill in Alaska and usually sold unprocessed logs. Respondent state of Alaska had a requirement that timber taken from state lands be processed within the state prior to export. Petitioner sought an injunction, arguing that the requirement violated the negative implications of the Commerce Clause. The trial court agreed, but the appellate court reversed, finding it unnecessary to reach the question whether, standing alone, the requirement would violate the Commerce Clause because it found implicit congressional authorization for the state requirement in the existence of a federal policy imposing a similar requirement on timber taken from federal lands in Alaska. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Was the decision of the appellate court proper?
The court reversed and remanded, holding that Alaska's requirement for in-state processing of timber prior to its export was not authorized by Congress. Mrreover, the Court held that there was insufficient evidence of congressional intent. Because Congress had acted only with respect to federal lands, the court concluded that it could not infer that Congress intended to authorize a similar policy with respect to state lands. The court failed to reach a majority decision on the question of whether, in the absence of congressional authorization, the requirement could still be found not to violate "dormant" Commerce Clause requirements.