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Article Four of the United States Constitution

Article Four of the United States Constitution relates to the states. It provides for the responsibilities states have to each other, and the responsibilities the federal government has to the states. Furthermore, it provides for the admission of new states and the changing of state boundaries.

Full faith and credit

The first Section of the Article requires states to give “full faith and credit” to the public acts, records and court proceedings of other states. Congress is permitted to regulate the manner in which proof of such acts, records or proceedings may be admitted.

In Mills v. Druyee (1813), the Supreme Court ruled that the merits of the case, as determined by courts of one state, had to be recognized by the courts of other states. It was ruled, then, that state courts may not reopen cases whose merits have been conclusively determined by courts of other states. In a later case, Chief Justice John Marshall suggested that the judgment of one state court had to be recognized by other states’ courts as final. Marshall’s suggestion was not followed, however, when the Supreme Court decided McElmoyle v. Cohen in 1839. In that case, one party had obtained judgment in South Carolina and sought to enforce it in Georgia. Georgia law, however, had a statute of limitations that purported to bar actions on judgments if a certain amount of time had passed since they were rendered by the court. The court upheld Georgia’s refusal to enforce the South Carolina judgment. It found that out-of-state judgments are subject to the laws and procedures of the states in which they are enforced, notwithstanding any priority accorded in the states in which they are pronounced.

Obligations of states

Section Two requires that “citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.” The ambiguousness of the clause has given rise to a number of different interpretations. Some contended that the clause requires Congress to equally treat all citizens. Others suggested that citizens of states carry forward the rights accorded by their home states when traveling in other states. Neither of these theories has been endorsed by the Supreme Court, which has instead held that the clause means that states may not discriminate against citizens of other states in favor of its own citizens. In Corfield v. Coryell (1823), the Supreme Court held that privileges and immunities in respect of which discrimination is barred include “protection by the Government; the enjoyment of life and liberty … the right of a citizen of one State to pass through, or to reside in any other State, for purposes of trade, agriculture, professional pursuits, or otherwise; to claim the benefits of the writ of habeas corpus; to institute and maintain actions of any kind in the courts of the State; to take, hold and dispose of property, either real or personal; and an exemption from higher taxes or impositions than are paid by the other citizens of the State.” Most other benefits were held not to be protected privileges and immunities. In the aforementioned Corfield v. Coryell, the Supreme Court sustained a New Jersey law giving state residents the exclusive right to gather clams and oysters.

Section Two also requires that fugitives from Justice may be extradited on the demand of executive authorities the states from which they flee. The Supreme Court has held that it is not compulsory for the fugitive to have fled after an indictment was found. Rather, the fugitive need only have fled after having committed the crime. The Constitution provides for the extradition of fugitives who have committed “treason, felony or other crime.” It has been held that such a phrase incorporates all acts prohibited by the laws of a state, including misdemeanors and petty offenses.

In Kentucky. v. Dennison (1861), the Supreme Court held that the federal courts may not, through the issue of writs of mandamus, compel state Governors to surrender fugitives. The decision was, however, overruled in 1987; now, the federal courts may require the extradition of fugitives. Alleged fugitives generally may not challenge extradition proceedings. The motives of the governor demanding the extradition may not be questioned. The accused cannot defend himself against the charges in the extraditing state; he must do so in the courts of the state receiving him. It has, however, been determined that the accused may prevent extradition by offering clear evidence that he was not in the state he allegedly fled from at the time of the crime. There is no constitutional requirement that extradited fugitives be tried only for the crimes named in the extradition proceedings.

Fugitives brought to states by means other than extradition may be tried, even though the means of the conveyance was unlawful, as the Supreme Court ruled in Mahon v. Justice (1888). In that case, a body of armed men from Kentucky forcibly took, without a warrant, a man in West Virginia to bring him back to the former state for formal arrest and trial. The Supreme Court found that “whatever effect may be given by the state court to the illegal mode in which the defendant was brought from another state, no right, secured under the constitution or laws of the United States, was violated by his arrest in Kentucky, and imprisonment there.” One must note, however, that the state from which a fugitive is unlawfully captured retains the power to punish the captors.

Formerly, fugitive slaves (elliptically referred to as “person[s] held to service or labour”) were also required to be extradited upon the claims of their masters. The clause became moot when the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery.

New states and federal property

Congress is empowered by Section Three to admit new states to the Union. No state, however, may be formed within the jurisdiction of another, or by the joining of different states or parts of different states, without the consent of all state legislatures concerned. The Constitution does not require that states be admitted on an “equal footing” with the original states. In fact, the Constitutional Convention rejected a proposal requiring the equality of the new states. Congress nevertheless included an equality clause in the acts of admission of states. Congressional restrictions on the equality of states, even when those limitations have been found in the acts of admission, have been held void by the Supreme Court. For instance, the Supreme Court struck down a provision which limited the jurisdiction of the state of Alabama over navigable waters within the state. The Court held, “Alabama is, therefore, entitled to the sovereignty and jurisdiction over all the territory within her limits … to maintain any other doctrine, is to deny that Alabama has been admitted into the union on an equal footing with the original states … to Alabama belong the navigable waters and soils under them.” The doctrine, however, can also be applied to the detriment of states, as occurred with Texas. Prior to admission to the Union, Texas, an independent nation, controlled water within three miles of the coast, the normal limit for nations. Under the equal footing doctrine, however, Texas was found not to have control over the three-mile belt after admission the Union, since the original states did not at the time of joining the union control such waters. Instead, Texas was found to have surrendered, by entering the Union, ceded control over the water and the soil under it to Congress. Under the Submerged Lands Act of 1953, Congress returned maritime territory to some states, but not to others; the Act was sustained by the Supreme Court.

The question of leaving the Union is not addressed by the Constitution. In Texas v. White (1869), however, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not unilaterally secede from the Union. The Court suggested that the Constitution ordained the “perpetuity and indissolubility of the Union.” Even though a majority of the citizens of Texas voted to secede in a referendum, the secession ordinance passed by the state legislature during the Civil War was held void.

Section Three also permits Congress to dispose of and legislate for all territories and properties belonging to the United States. Pursuant to a parallel clause in Article One, Section Eight, such authority is “exclusive”: for example, the Supreme Court has held that states may not tax such federal property.

Obligations of the United States

The United States is obligated by Section Four to ensure a “Republican Form of Government” in each state. What exactly constitutes a republican government, however, is not up to the courts. In effect, the clause is non-justiciable; in Luther v. Borden (1849), the Court held that “it rests with Congress to decide what government is the established one in a State … as well as its republican character.”

Section Four also requires the United States to protect each state from invasion, and, upon the application of the state legislature (or executive, if the legislature cannot be convened), from domestic violence. Pursuant to the clause, Congress has authorized the President to call up the state militia to suppress insurrections and repel invasions.


  • Wikipedia – Constitution of the United States 

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