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Comity clause

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Description: Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, providing a foundation for a state to give the courtesy of enforcing the laws of another state. This courtesy is afforded out of respect and friendship and not out of obligation.


Significance: Comity clause cases that come before the Supreme Court often involve the extent to which one state court's judgment is enforceable in another state or the unequal treatment of residents and nonresidents.


The Articles of Confederation specifically mentioned interstate relations premised on the concept of comity. Article IV, sections 1 and 2, of the U.S. Constitution provide for comity and facilitate interstate relations through the full faith and credit, rendition, and privileges and immunities provisions. The full faith and credit provision requires that each state recognize and enforce the “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” Congress first enacted implementation legislation for the full faith and credit provision, which has become a significant component of the U.S. legal system. The most significant issue arising under this provision entails the extent to which a valid final judgment of one state's court is enforceable in another state. In Estin v. Estin (1948), the Supreme Court determined that one state must honor the validity of a divorce decree granted by another state; however, it is not bound by the other state's court decision regarding alimony, child custody, and division of liabilities and assets. The full faith and credit provision is inapplicable to criminal jurisprudence. The rendition provision, also known as the fugitive from justice clause and extradition, calls on one state to surrender to another state a fugitive from justice. In 1793 Congress enacted implementation legislation. In Kentucky v. Dennison (1861), the governor of Ohio refused to comply with Kentucky's demand to surrender a defendant charged in Kentucky with aiding the escape of a slave. The Court held that Ohio's governor had a moral, but unenforceable, duty to comply with Kentucky's extradition demand. In Puerto Rico v. Branstad (1987), the Court overruled a portion of Dennison and held that federal courts have the authority to require a governor to perform his ministerial duty by delivering a fugitive upon a proper demand from another state. The privileges and immunities provision, also known as the comity clause, provides that the “citizens of each state shall be entitled to all of the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.” The Court in the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) ruled that Article IV privileges and immunities addressed state citizenship; however, the Fourteenth Amendment protected only national citizenship. The Court has upheld the differential treatment of out-of-state citizens when a state has enacted a state citizenship or state residency classification. State laws differentiating between residents and nonresidents have been upheld by the Court regarding commercial fishing licenses, recreational fishing licenses, recreational hunting licenses, business licenses, the right to practice a profession, the privilege of voting in state elections, and running for state office. Presently the Court relies more heavily upon the equal protection and commerce clauses in order to facilitate interstate comity than the Article IV privileges and immunities provision.



Further Reading

  • Chase, Harold W., and Craig R. Ducat. Edward S. Corwin's The Constitution and What It Means Today. 14th ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978.
  • Ducat, Craig R. Constitutional Interpretation. 8th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Thomson/West, 2004.
  • Fried, Charles. Saying What the Law Is: The Constitution in the Supreme Court. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004.
  • Wiecek, William M. The Birth of the Modern Constitution: The United States Supreme Court, 1941-1953. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.