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Understanding the Full Faith & Credit Clause

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  • Legalbear
    In Williams v. North Carolina, 1945.SCT.40683 ¶ 13; 325 U.S. 226 (1945) the Court gives us a snapshot understanding of the Full
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2010

      In Williams v. North Carolina, 1945.SCT.40683 <http://www.versuslaw.com>¶ 13; 325 U.S. 226 (1945) the Court gives us a snapshot understanding of the Full Faith & Credit Clause:



      [13]        The implications of the Full Faith and Credit Clause, Article IV, § 1 of the Constitution,*fn2 first received the sharp analysis of this Court in Thompson v. Whitman, 18 Wall. 457. Theretofore, uncritical notions about the scope of that Clause had been expressed in the early case of Mills v. Duryee, 7 Cranch 481. The "doctrine" of that case, as restated in another early case, was that "the judgment of a state court should have the same credit, validity, and effect, in every other court in the United States, which it had in the state where it was pronounced." Hampton v. M'Connel, 3 Wheat. 234, 235. This utterance, when put to the test, as it was in Thompson v. Whitman, supra, was found to be too loose. Thompson v. Whitman made it clear that the doctrine of Mills v. Duryee comes into operation only when, in the language of Kent, "the jurisdiction of the court in another state is not impeached, either as to the subject matter or the person." Only then is "the record of the judgment . . . entitled to full faith and credit." 1 Kent, Commentaries (2d ed., 1832) *261 n. b. The essence of the matter was thus put in what Thompson v. Whitman adopted from Story: "'The Constitution did not mean to confer [upon the States] a new power or jurisdiction, but simply to regulate the effect of the acknowledged jurisdiction over persons and things within their territory.'"*fn3 18 Wall. 457, 462. In short, the Full Faith and Credit Clause puts the Constitution behind a judgment instead of the too fluid, ill-defined concept of "comity."*fn4 But the Clause does not make a sister-State judgment a judgment in another State. The proposal to do so was rejected by the Philadelphia Convention. 2 Farrand, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, 447-48.*fn5 "To give it the force of a judgment in another state, it must be made a judgment there." M'Elmoyle v. Cohen, 13 Pet. 312, 325. It can be made a judgment there only if the court purporting to render the original judgment had power to render such a judgment. A judgment in one State is conclusive upon the merits in every other State, but only if the court of the first State had power to pass on the merits -- had jurisdiction, that is, to render the judgment.



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