Supreme Court hears arguments on Michigan truck fees

| 4/27/2005

The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments April 26 regarding annual fees for truckers passing through Michigan.

Currently, Michigan charges $100 in annual fees for trucks registered in the state and for trucks registered in other states that transport freight between two Michigan cities.

Two groups – the ATA and Mid-Con Freight Systems – challenged the fees in January. The ATA argued that the fees were in violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution because they affect interstate commerce.

Mid-Con Freight Systems, meanwhile, argued that Section 40 of the U.S. Code 15404, the federal law that defines the Single State Registration System, preempts the law. That law limits participating states to a $10 annual fee.

The Associated Press reported that Robert Diggs, an attorney representing ATA, told the Supreme Court justices that the Michigan law produced the same effect on interstate commerce as a Pennsylvania law the court struck down in 1987.

The court faulted Pennsylvania for creating a tax structure that favored in-state drivers. Diggs said the Michigan law discriminates against interstate drivers and violates the commerce clause, which gives Congress authority to regulate interstate commerce, rather than states.

Henry Boynton, Michigan assistant solicitor general, contended that Diggs’ argument regarding the effect on interstate commerce was purely speculative because there had been no trial on the case in a lower court.

According to The AP, justices appeared to be split on the arguments. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg compared the law with the multiple law licenses required by attorneys who practice in more than one state.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, on the other hand, wondered whether the fees did indeed conflict with the SSRS.

“What’s the point of the SSRS limitation if any state can impose a fee by giving it a different name?” she asked Boynton.

The court is expected to issue a ruling by the end of June.