Kassel v. Consolidated Freightways Corp.

450 U.S. 662 (1981)


Facts: Iowa only allowed trucks on their interstate highways to be a maximum of 60 feet long when other states in the area allowed double trucks that were 65 feet long.  The trucking company sued in Iowa federal district court for an injunction to stop Iowa from enforcing the restriction.  They claimed it was an unconstitutional restriction on interstate commerce under the Dormant Commerce Clause.  Iowa claimed that it was a safety measure and should be given deference by the courts.  The district court struck down the law, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.  Iowa appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Issue: Does the Iowa statute prohibiting 65-foot trucks unconstitutionally burden interstate commerce?


Rule: NO MAJORITY RULE!  A plurality proposes doing a factual balancing test between safety and the burden on interstate commerce.  Brennan and Marshall want to do a balancing test based on the regulatory purpose of the statute in question.  The dissenters want to give Iowa more deference.


Analysis: The plurality and the concurring opinion agree on the judgment but not how to get there.


The plurality says that whether the statute may stand depends on whether the safety argument is non-trivial and isn’t overwhelmed by countervailing interstate commerce policy considerations.  They point to facts from the trial which show that the statute might actually go against safety, but that the burden on interstate commerce would be really high.  They make a big deal out of the “border cities exemption”, whereby longer trucks are allowed in cities that are right on the state border.  They use this to suggest that safety couldn’t be as big a deal as they say, or else they would ban longer trucks everywhere.


Brennan and Marshall kind of take a shortcut.  They say that it doesn’t matter whether there are legitimate safety considerations in fact, it only matters that the stated goal of the governor was protectionist.


The dissent basically wants to give a bunch of deference to the states, and they note that the plurality kind of spins the facts in the favor of the trucking company.


Conclusion: The lower court decisions are upheld.


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