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Immunities of Citizens?

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  • Legalbear
    Justice Thomas teaches about the “privileges and immunities” clauses in the Constitution in this dissenting opinion from Saenz v. Roe
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 7, 2011

      Justice Thomas teaches about the “privileges and immunities” clauses in the Constitution in this dissenting opinion from Saenz v. Roe.

      Justice Thomas, with whom The Chief Justice joins, dissenting.

      I join The Chief Justice's dissent. I write separately to address the majority's conclusion that California has violated "the right of the newly arrived citizen to the same privileges and immunities enjoyed by other citizens of the same State." Ante, at 502. In my view, the majority attributes a meaning to the Privileges or Immunities Clause that likely was unintended when the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted and ratified.

      The Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that "[n]o State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." U. S. Const., Amdt. 14, § 1. Unlike the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, which have assumed near-talismanic status in modern constitutional law, the Court all but read the Privileges or Immunities Clause out of the Constitution in the Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36 (1873). There, the Court held that the State of Louisiana had not abridged 522*522 the Privileges or Immunities Clause by granting a partial monopoly of the slaughtering business to one company. Id., at 59-63, 66. The Court reasoned that the Privileges or Immunities Clause was not intended "as a protection to the citizen of a State against the legislative power of his own State." Id., at 74. Rather the "privileges or immunities of citizens" guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment were limited to those "belonging to a citizen of the United States as such." Id., at 75. The Court declined to specify the privileges or immunities that fell into this latter category, but it made clear that few did. See id., at 76 (stating that "nearly every civil right for the establishment and protection of which organized government is instituted," including "those rights which are fundamental," are not protected by the Clause).

      Unlike the majority, I would look to history to ascertain the original meaning of the Clause.[1] At least in American law, the phrase (or its close approximation) appears to stem 523*523 from the 1606 Charter of Virginia, which provided that "all and every the Persons being our Subjects, which shall dwell and inhabit within every or any of the said several Colonies . . . shall HAVE and enjoy all Liberties, Franchises, and Immunities . . . as if they had been abiding and born, within this our Realme of England. " 7 Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters and Other Organic Laws 3788 (F. Thorpe ed. 1909). Other colonial charters contained similar guarantees.[2] Years later, as tensions between England and the American Colonies increased, the colonists adopted resolutions reasserting their entitlement to the privileges or immunities of English citizenship.[3]

      524*524 The colonists' repeated assertions that they maintained the rights, privileges, and immunities of persons "born within the realm of England" and "natural born" persons suggests that, at the time of the founding, the terms "privileges" and "immunities" (and their counterparts) were understood to refer to those fundamental rights and liberties specifically enjoyed by English citizens and, more broadly, by all persons. Presumably members of the Second Continental Congress so understood these terms when they employed them in the Articles of Confederation, which guaranteed that "the free inhabitants of each of these States, paupers, vagabonds and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States." Art. IV. The Constitution, which superceded the Articles of Confederation, similarly guarantees that "[t]he Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States." Art. IV, § 2, cl. 1.

      Justice Bushrod Washington's landmark opinion in Corfield v. Coryell, 6F. Cas. 546 (No. 3,230) (CCED Pa. 1825), reflects this historical understanding. In Corfield, a citizen of Pennsylvania challenged a New Jersey law that prohibited any person who was not an "actual inhabitant and resident" of New Jersey from harvesting oysters from New Jersey waters. Id., at 550. Justice Washington, sitting as Circuit Justice, rejected the argument that the New Jersey law violated Article IV's Privileges and Immunities Clause. He reasoned, "we cannot accede to the proposition . . . that, under this provision of the constitution, the citizens of the several states are permitted to participate in all the rights 525*525 which belong exclusively to the citizens of any other particular state, merely upon the ground that they are enjoyed by those citizens." Id., at 552. Instead, Washington concluded:

      "We feel no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are, in their nature, fundamental; which belong, of right, to the citizens of all free governments; and which have, at all times, been enjoyed by the citizens of the several states which compose this Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign. What these fundamental principles are, it would perhaps be more tedious than difficult to enumerate. They may, however, be all comprehended under the following general heads: Protection by the government; the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to pursue and obtain happiness and safety; subject nevertheless to such restraints as the government may justly prescribe for the general good of the whole. 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 benefit of the writ of habeas corpus; to institute and maintain actions of any kind in the courts of the state; . . . and an exemption from higher taxes or impositions than are paid by the other citizens of the state; . . . the elective franchise, as regulated and established by the laws or constitution of the state in which it is to be exercised. These, and many others which might be mentioned, are, strictly speaking, privileges and immunities." Id., at 551-552.

      Washington rejected the proposition that the Privileges and Immunities Clause guaranteed equal access to all public benefits (such as the right to harvest oysters in public waters) that a State chooses to make available. Instead, he 526*526 endorsed the colonial-era conception of the terms "privileges" and "immunities," concluding that Article IV encompassed only fundamental rights that belong to all citizens of the United States.[4] Id., at 552.

      Justice Washington's opinion in Corfield indisputably influenced the Members of Congress who enacted the Fourteenth Amendment. When Congress gathered to debate the Fourteenth Amendment, Members frequently, if not as a matter of course, appealed to Corfield, arguing that the Amendment was necessary to guarantee the fundamental rights that Justice Washington identified in his opinion. See Harrison, Reconstructing the Privileges or Immunities Clause, 101 Yale L. J. 1385, 1418 (1992) (referring to a Member's "obligatory quotation from Corfield "). For just one example, in a speech introducing the Amendment to the Senate, Senator Howard explained the Privileges or Immunities Clause by quoting at length from Corfield.[5] Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 2765 (1866). Furthermore, it appears that no Member of Congress refuted the notion that Washington's analysis in Corfield undergirded the meaning of the Privileges or Immunities Clause.[6]

      527*527 That Members of the 39th Congress appear to have endorsed the wisdom of Justice Washington's opinion does not, standing alone, provide dispositive insight into their understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause. Nevertheless, their repeated references to the Corfield decision, combined with what appears to be the historical understanding of the Clause's operative terms, supports the inference that, at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, people understood that "privileges or immunities of citizens" were fundamental rights, rather than every public benefit established by positive law. Accordingly, the majority's conclusion—that a State violates the Privileges or Immunities Clause when it "discriminates" against citizens who have been domiciled in the State for less than a year in the distribution of welfare benefits—appears contrary to the original understanding and is dubious at best.

      As The Chief Justice points out, ante, at 511, it comes as quite a surprise that the majority relies on the Privileges or Immunities Clause at all in this case. That is because, as I have explained supra, at 521-522, the Slaughter-House Cases sapped the Clause of any meaning. Although the majority appears to breathe new life into the Clause today, it fails to address its historical underpinnings or its place in our constitutional jurisprudence. Because I believe that the demise of the Privileges or Immunities Clause has contributed in no small part to the current disarray of our Fourteenth 528*528 Amendment jurisprudence, I would be open to reevaluating its meaning in an appropriate case. Before invoking the Clause, however, we should endeavor to understand what the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment thought that it meant. We should also consider whether the Clause should displace, rather than augment, portions of our equal protection and substantive due process jurisprudence. The majority's failure to consider these important questions raises the specter that the Privileges or Immunities Clause will become yet another convenient tool for inventing new rights, limited solely by the "predilections of those who happen at the time to be Members of this Court." Moore v.East Cleveland, 431 U. S. 494, 502 (1977).

      I respectfully dissent.

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