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Case Basics
Aaron B. Cooley
Board of Wardens
Facts of the Case 

A Pennsylvania law required that all ships entering or leaving the port of Philadelphia hire a local pilot. Ships that fail to do so would be subject to a fine, which would go to a fund for retire pilots and their dependents. This fund was administered by the Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia. Cooley was a ship owner. He refused to hire a local pilot and he also refused to pay the fine.


Does the law violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution?

Decision: 7 votes for Board of Wardens, 2 vote(s) against
Legal provision: US Const. Art 1, Section 8, Clause 3

According to Justice Curtis, who wrote the majority opinion, the pilotage law did not violate the Constitution. Congress had provided in 1789 that state pilotage laws should govern. Navigation was commerce; and, piloting was navigation. Though the subject to be regulated was commerce, the interesting twist here was whether the Commerce Power was exlusive. Some subjects demand a single uniform rule for the whole nation, while others, like pilotage, demand diverse local rules to cope with varying local conditions. The power of Congress was therefore selectively exclusive.

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COOLEY v. BOARD OF WARDENS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 30 August 2015. <>.
COOLEY v. BOARD OF WARDENS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 30, 2015).
"COOLEY v. BOARD OF WARDENS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 30, 2015,