Citation: 53 U.S. 299 (1851)

Summary: This is a key U.S. Supreme Court opinion in the context of the Court’s Commerce Clause jurisprudence.

The case posed the issue of constitutionality of a Pennsylvania law which required all ships entering or leaving the Port of Philadelphia to use a local pilot or to pay a fine, the proceeds of which were used to support local retired pilots.  The Supreme Court held that the law was constitutional and did not violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In its ruling, the Court drew a distinction between state/local laws pertaining to matters that were national (in which case the local laws would be unconstitutional under the doctrine of Dormant Commerce Clause) versus those pertaining to local matters (in which case the local laws would be constitutional).  The Court stated:  “Now the power to regulate commerce, embraces a vast field, containing not only many, but exceedingly various subjects, quite unlike in their nature; some imperatively demanding a single uniform rule, operating equally on the commerce of the United States in every port; and some, like the subject now in question, as imperatively demanding that diversity, which alone can meet the local necessities of navigation.”

The Court held that regulating pilots was a local matter and, therefore, the Pennsylvania law did not violate the Commerce Clause.

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