In the 1980′s, in response to the trucking industry’s desire to use 102-inch wide trucks and double-trailer truck combinations, the federal government required states to establish a National Network, which is a connected network of interstate highways to permit interstate travel by these vehicles. New Jersey complied with this directive, resulting in over 500 miles of roads in New Jersey that contribute to the National Network. Thereafter, purportedly in response to the threat to health and highway safety posed by large trucks on local roads, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) adopted regulations which were designed to re-route large trucks onto the National Network, and which required restricted vehicles that do not have an origin or destination in New Jersey to use the National Network while in New Jersey, except as necessary to access food, rest, repairs or fuel. However, the regulations indicated that restricted vehicles engaged in purely intrastate commerce or interstate commerce that includes an origin or destination in New Jersey are able to use both the National Network and the New Jersey Network.
After the adoption of the regulations, the American Trucking Association and others filed a Complaint in the United District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleging that the regulations violate the Dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, which “prohibits the states from imposing restrictions that benefit in- state economic interests at out-of- state interest’s expense,” thus reinforcing the “principle of the unitary national market.” Essentially, the Dormant Commerce Clause prohibits a state from impeding free market forces to shield in-state businesses from out-of-state competition. In short, the American Trucking Association argued that the regulations were “discriminatory on their face,” because they discriminated against interstate commerce, by only requiring trucks that do not have an origin or destination in New Jersey to use the National Network, subject to the few exceptions described above, while trucks engaged in intrastate commerce or interstate commerce that includes an origin or destination in New Jersey are permitted to use both the National Network and the New Jersey Network, which is comprised of local roads.
In American Trucking Association v. Whitman, et al., 437F.2d313 (3d. 2006), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed that the regulations were discriminatory on their face, in that they placed greater restrictions on those trucks which do not have an origin or destination in New Jersey or which are engaged in intrastate commerce within the State of New Jersey. As such, the court determined that a “heightened” level of judicial scrutiny would apply. Under the heightened scrutiny standard, for the regulations to be deemed constitutional , the state must demonstrate that the statute serves a legitimate local interest, and that this purpose could not be served as well by other available non-discriminatory means.
The court determined that New Jersey had not satisfied the “heightened scrutiny” standard, because there were other available non-discriminatory alternatives to achieve the state‘s purpose. More specifically, the Court held that non-discriminatory alternatives were ava ilable in the form of a regulation that would prohibit all trucks, regardless of origin or destination, from using the New Jersey Network except as needed to reach the National Network from a New Jersey origin, to reach a New Jersey destination from the National Network, or to access food, fuel, rest or repairs. It is for this reason that the Court of Appeals determined that New Jersey had not satisfied the heightened scrutiny standard. Therefore, the regulations were deemed unconstitutional, as being in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause.
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