Once again, the nine robed federal employees filling seats at the Supreme Court failed to check constantly expanding federal power.
The feds have tried to unconstitutionally regulate intrastate commerce in many ways through agencies under the purview of the executive branch. Using a several different alphabet agencies, they have maintained bans on hemp and marijuana, and even regulated food, environmental conditions and firearms within the borders of individual states.
While the Constitution delegates power to the federal government for regulation of interstate commerce – trade crossing state lines – the federal government was never intended to interfere with economic activity confined within the borders of the state.
On June 13, the Supreme Court rubber stamped this unconstitutional exercise of federal power, concluding federal acts override state and local laws.
In 1997, the Port of Los Angeles (“the Port”) introduced a plan to expand its cargo terminals to better accommodate its high shipping volume. Following public concern that the plan could significantly increase air pollution, the Board of Harbor Commissioners adopted a Clean Air Action Plan (“CAAP”). The CAAP aimed to reduce emissions and specifically targeted the Port’s drayage truck business. Roughly 16,000 drayage trucks regularly serve the Port, transporting goods between customers and the cargo terminals. Beginning in 2008, the CAAP banned drayage trucks from the Port, unless the carriers entered into a series of concession agreements. These agreements imposed a progressive ban on older trucks and provided incentives for drayage truck operators to convert their aging fleets to cleaner trucks.
American Trucking Associations (“ATA”), a national association of motor carriers, challenged several provisions within the concession agreements and brought suit against the City of Los Angeles and its Harbor Department. ATA argued that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (“FAAA”) preempted the agreements. The FAAA Act prohibits a state from enacting any regulation related to the “price, route, or service of any motor carrier.” ATA claimed that the concession agreements amounted to such a regulation. ATA further argued that the State could not limit a federally licensed motor carrier’s access to a port.”
The FAAA legitimately preempts state and local laws when regulating commerce in such places as ports, where interstate and foreign commerce takes place. However, off-site parking falls under to state and local authority and not federal regulation. But the Supremes opined that since neither California nor the city of Los Angeles ever had a problem with FAAA regulating things just outside the port before, well, then it’s just fine and dandy for the feds to regulate it under the FAAA now. Therefore, the strict regulations imposed by the state of California and the city of Los Angeles are now null and void under this ruling. Not only that, the FAAA can stop a city or state from preventing trucks access to a port based on consignments of statute all across the U.S.
Even though the justices unanimously voted for federal power preemptuing state and local regulations outside of the port, Justice Clarence Thomas offered a few surprisingly federalist comments.
The tension between §14501 (FAAA) and the Constitution is apparent, because the Constitution does not give Congress power to regulate intrastate commerce…Nevertheless, §14501(c)(1) purports to pre-empt any state or local law “related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier . . . with respect to the transportation of property.” By its terms, §14501(c) would pre-empt even a city ordinance establishing a uniform rate for most transportation services originating and ending inside city limits, so long as the services were provided by a motor carrier. Such an extraordinary assertion of congressional authority cannot be reconciled with our constitutional system of enumerated powers.
Drayage trucks that carry cargo into and out of the Port of Los Angeles undoubtedly operate within the “channels of interstate commerce”—for that is what a port is. Congress can therefore regulate conduct taking place within the port. But it is doubtful whether Congress has the power to decide where a drayage truck should park once it has left the port or what kind of placard the truck should display while offsite. …Congress made no findings indicating that offsite parking—conduct that falls within the scope of the States’ traditional police powers—substantially affects interstate commerce. And I doubt that it could.
The Supremacy Clause provides the constitutional basis for the pre-emption of state laws… However, the constitutional text leaves no doubt that only federal laws made “in Pursuance” of the Constitution are supreme. The acts of the [federal government] which are not pursuant to its constitutional powers, but which are invasions of the residual authorities of the [states], will become the supreme law of the land. These will be merely acts of usurpation, and will deserve to be treated as such.”
Thomas’ comments don’t match his vote, but he got the Supremacy Clause right. Still, he rubber stamped a federal “law” over state sovereignty, once again proving we cannot count on federal employees to limit federal power: even when they know better.
This case shows that constant vigilance of states rights need to be upheld. Any usurpation, no matter how small at first, must be challenged immediately, or the rubber stamping will continue.
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