ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Before: ADAMS and SLOVITER, Circuit Judges and VAN ARTSDALEN, District Judge*fn*
A Pennsylvania statute, enacted in 1980 as an amendment to its Motor Vehicle Code, requires that all "motor carrier vehicles", i.e., truck, truck tractors, and combinations, whether or not registered in Pennsylvania, must be periodically inspected either under the law of Pennsylvania or some other state. The district court held that this provision imposes an unconstitutional burden on insterstate commerce and issued a declaratory judgment and a permanent injunction against its enforcement. American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Larson, 515 F. Supp. 1327 (M.D. Pa. 1981). Pennsylvania, acting through its relevant public officials (hereafter referred to collectively as "Pennsylvania"), appeals. We reverse the judgment of the district court.
The statute at issue provides that "[n]o motor carrier vehicle shall be operated on a highway unless it displays a currently valid certificate of inspection issued under this chapter or by another state."*fn1 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 4703(a) (2) (Purdon). Section 102 of the Code defines "motor carrier vehicle" as "[a] truck, truck tractor or combination having a gross weight or registered gross weight in excess of 17,000 pounds." 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 102.A "combination" is defined as "[t]wo or more vehicles physically interconnected in tandem." Id.
On August 16, 1980 the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation published proposed regulations enforcing section 4703(a) (2). They provide in part:
Both the towing vehicle and the trailer in a combination having a gross weight or registered gross weight in excess of 17,000 lbs. shall comply with the provisions of section 4703(a) (2) and (c) of the Vehicle Code and this chapter.
§ 494.3. Display of valid certificate of inspection from another state.
Vehicles, including elements of a combination, will be regarded as displaying a currently valid certificate of inspection issued by another state, if:
(1) the vehicle was required to be inspected as a prerequisite to registration and bears a currently valid registration plate; or
(2) the driver exhibits on requests of any police officer or a Department employe engaged in weighing vehicles a currently valid document issued in accordance with the law or regulation of another state evidencing that the vehicle has been inspected.
§ 494.4 Vehicles re-entering this Commonwealth.
Vehicles, including elements of a combination, which have been outside this Commonwealth continuously for 30 days or more and which, at the time of re-entering this Commonwealth do not bear a currently valid certificate of inspection shall be inspected within five days of re-entering this Commonwealth. The driver of the vehicle shall be required at the request of a police officer or Department employe engaged in weighing vehicles . . . to provide adequate proof that the vehicle has been outside this Commonwealth continuously for at least 30 days.
10 Pa. Bulletin 3397-98 (to be codified at 67 Pa. Code Ch. 494).
Plaintiffs are American Trucking Associations, Inc. (ATA), a federation composed of state trucking associations; two state trucking associations acting separately; and five trucking companies. Plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania challenging section 4703(a) (2) and the accompanying regulations as violative of the Commerce Clause and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Subsequently, Steamship Operators Intermodal Committee (SOIC), an unincorporated association whose members are common carriers by water and are engaged in the intermodal transportation of containerized cargo in the interstate and foreign commerce of the United States, was permitted to intervene as a plaintiff.
After hearings, the district court first entered a temporary restraining order and then granted a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the statutory section in question. After further hearings on the merits, the court rendered the decision which is the subject of this appeal.
The district court held that the purported purpose of this inspection provision is to improve highway safety in Pennsylvania, that the "evidence . . . suggests that no correlation exists between mandatory periodical inspections and highway safety," 515 F. Supp. at 1331, that the Pennsylvania law places substantial burdens on interstate commerce, and that the periodic inspection statute "has, at best, insubstantial, slight, and problematical benefits." Id. at 1338. The court concluded "that the strong presumption of validity accorded to this legislation has been overcome and that the statute violates the Commerce Clause." Id. at 1340.
Before reviewing the district court's findings and conclusions in light of the evidence presented, it will be useful to consider at the outset the legal standard which federal courts should apply in reviewing state regulation under a Commerce Clause attack. Such an inquiry is seriously handicapped by the failure of the Supreme Court to clarify the standard to be applied. The members of the Court have been sharply divided on this issue. This leaves the inferior federal courts to attempt to fashion a workable analysis from the various, and sometimes inconsistent, opinions of the members of the Court.
The Commerce Clause, contained in Article I, § 8 of the Constitution, is phrased as an affirmative grant of power to Congress: "The Congress shall have Power . . . To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes. . . ." Once Congress acts pursuant to this plenary power, its pre-emptive effect is established. Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1, 6 L. Ed. 23 (1824). It is only when Congress has not acted that the issue of state power arises. Although the Commerce Clause does not explicitly limit state interference with interstate commerce, it is well settled that even in the absence of a congressional exercise of this power, the Commerce Clause "prevents the States from erecting barriers to the free flow of interstate commerce." Raymond Motor Transportation, Inc. v. Rice, 434 U.S. 429, 440, 54 L. Ed. 2d 664, 98 S. Ct. 787 (1978).As Professor Tribe has stated, "All of the doctrine in this area is thus traceable to the Constitution's negative implications; it is by interpreting "these great silences of the Constitution" that the Supreme Court has limited the scope of what the states might do." L. Tribe, American Constitutional Law 320 (1978) (footnote omitted).
Fortuitously, there has appeared at this time a scholarly and provocative analysis of the dormant commerce clause. Eule, Laying the Dormant Commerce Clause to Rest, 91 Yale L.J. 425 (1982). It is Professor Eule's thesis that the Commerce Clause was desinged to provide Congress with "a tool for encouraging [the] free trade ideal as a means of protecting the nation from self-destruction," id. at 435; that such a role is a value-laden one appropriate for Congress but not for the courts which, in the commerce area at least, should focus on discriminatory or disproportionate state legislative treatment of interstate commerce, and that such analysis would be "more comfortably embedded in the privileges and immunities clause of Article IV." Id. at 428. Under the present state of the law, the decision in Paul v. Virginia, 75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 168, 181, 19 L. Ed. 357 (1869), limits application of the privileges and immunities clause to natural persons. As an inferior federal court we are not free to exercise the same license as scholars in disregarding still binding precedent. Accordingly, even if we were persuaded that it is in fact time to rethink the application of the Commerce Clause in cases such as the one before us, we are bound to restrict our analysis within the confines of that clause.
State legislation covering the gamut of commercial activity has been challenged as violative of the Commerce Clause but the Court has frequently emphasized that it is most reluctant to employ the Commerce Clause to invalidate state regulation in the field of safety. "In no field has this deference to state regulation been greater than that of highway safety regulation." Raymond Motor Transportation, Inc. v. Rice, 434 U.S. at 443. See, e.g., Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Enginemen v. Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, 393 U.S. 129, 21 L. Ed. 2d 289, 89 S. Ct. 323 (1968) (upholding Arkansas laws requiring trains traveling further than specified distances within the state to be operated by crews of at least a designated minimum number); South Carolina State Highway Department v. Barnwell Brothers, Inc., 303 U.S. 177, 82 L. Ed. 734, 58 S. Ct. 510 (1938) (upholding state regulation which barred from state highways all trucks wider than 90 inches or heavier than 10 tons where 85-90% ...