To determine whether a law violates the so-called "dormant" aspect of the Commerce Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3, a court first asks whether it discriminates on its face against interstate commerce. In this context, "discrimination" simply means differential treatment of in-state and out-of-state economic interests that benefits the former and burdens the latter. Discriminatory laws motivated by simple economic protectionism are subject to a virtually per se rule of invalidity, which can only be overcome by a showing that the state has no other means to advance a legitimate local purpose.
Petitioners, a trade association and waste haulers, sued respondents, Oneida County and Herkimer County, New York, and the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, challenging the Counties' flow control ordinances requiring all solid waste generated within the Counties to be delivered to the Authority's processing facilities. The district court ruled in favor of respondents, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ultimately affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in both cases.
Do the contested flow control ordinances violate the Commerce Clause?
The Court found that the flow control ordinances did not violate the Commerce Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3. Although an ordinance that favored a particular private business would have violated the dormant Commerce Clause, the Counties' ordinances did not discriminate against interstate commerce because they benefitted a clearly public facility while treating all private companies exactly the same. It was not the office of the Commerce Clause to determine whether government or the private sector should provide waste management services or to override state policy that favored displacing competition with regulation in the waste management area.