Thursday, April 28, 2016

Constitution Series Part 24: Article IV, Sections 1 and 2

With the major stuff out of the way, only a few details remain before we can put a pin in this document that details what constitutes our government. The biggest detail (and, therefore, the biggest article of what remains) is about the relationship between the states and the federal government, and the relationship between the states and themselves.

As a reminder, when I quote the Constitution in these posts I'm quoting from the transcript of the Constitution at the Federal Archives website.


Section 1
Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.
With the states forming a union, it was important that the states come to an understanding among each other. Each may have different laws and procedures, but it was important that each state respect the laws and the judgments of each other. For instance, a fugitive from Virginia could not find amnesty in New York.

The details of how this interstate legal agreement actually works changes with time, but generally cases involving multiple states try to take into account the local laws of each state involved, including punitive measures.

Congress has only used its ability to influence interstate law a few times. Generally, as per the first provision of this clause, records from one state are valid in another, such as vehicle registrations, driver's licenses, and marriage licenses.

However, in 1993, the Supreme Court of Hawaii decided that the state needed to give compelling reasons to prevent same-sex couples from marrying. Though this did not open the door to same-sex marriage in Hawaii (the state passed an amendment in 1998 that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman as a result of that 1993 ruling), the possibility that a state might legalize same-sex marriage prompted Congress to create what eventually became the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which passed through both houses of Congress with overwhelming majorities in 1996 before being signed into law by Bill Clinton.

Though DOMA did not prevent states from legalizing same-sex marriage, it did prevent federal recognition of those marriages (and, therefore, federal marriage benefits), and it altered the Full Faith and Credit agreement (established in this section of the Constitution) to allow states opposed to same-sex marriage to refuse to recognize those marriages.

DOMA was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, but it still serves as a good example of how Congress can use the second half of Article IV, Section 1.

Section 2
The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.
This is a confusing clause if you're not familiar with the language. Basically, "Privileges and Immunities" refers to an old English concept that came about when serfdom was abolished. It's a short list of the most basic of basic rights, the bare minimum requirements for a free country, which the states are not allowed to restrict.

The rights are as follows, more or less:
1) The states and their citizens are all members of the same community.
2) Citizens have a right to travel throughout that community.
3) Citizens of one state may not discriminate against people of another state (particularly in the realm of commerce).

In short, you're free to move about the country and make a living.
A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.
Basically, if someone commits a crime in one state and escapes to another, the state in which the crime was committed can order an extradition of that criminal for trial. This clause basically enforces an extradition treaty between the states, just as the United States has extradition treaties with some other countries.

The "Treason, Felony, or other Crime" part is there to make it clear that any crime, from the smallest misdemeanor to high treason, warrants extradition. However, this clarification also means that extradition does not apply to civil cases, only criminal ones.

The process must go this way: First, a person must be charged with a crime. Then, that person must flee from the state and be found in another. Finally, the executive authority from the originating state (the governor or the police) must demand extradition from the second state. When that happens, the second state must deliver the person in question.

This rule was muddied a bit during the Antebellum period, as northern states refused to extradite people charged with slavery-related crimes, but this muddiness was systematically eliminated over the course of the next century after the Civil War. Speaking of slavery, though:
No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due
Escaped slaves could not simply escape from the Slave States to the Free States and expect to become free. The same extradition rules governing criminals applied to slaves as well, which is why the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape their bondage, didn't simply deliver the slaves to the North; it guided fugitive slaves all the way to Canada.

The language of this clause was carefully crafted, much like the reference to Persons in Article I, Section 9. Specifically, the writers didn't want this clause to make it sound like they considered the act of slavery to be in any way morally justified. It was simply a thing that existed, so we needed to know how it would be handled. Obviously, the fact that this and the other slavery clauses are in our Constitution in the first place is reprehensible, but the fact that writers wanted to try and mitigate the Constitution's tacit approval of the practice of slavery reminds me that, no, slavery was not simply accepted at the time. Even then, it had its vocal opponents and people who found it morally repugnant. The slave-owners of the time were not ignorant of the nature of what they were doing, but they did it anyway. And, for that, they have a right to be judged.

They should not be judged solely on the fact that they owned slaves, of course. One of those slave-owners was George Washington, who led the Revolutionary Armies to victory, whose presidency was an era of peace, and whose wisdom set the tone for every president that succeeded him. You can weigh the virtues of George Washington against his flaws and view him favorably while still condemning his practice of slavery, especially since apparently he opposed slavery himself yet hypocritically continued to buy and keep slaves anyway, freeing them only upon his death. People are complex, and our first President was no exception.

In any case, the 13th Amendment ended the practice of slavery and rendered this clause irrelevant.

Continue to Part 25: Article IV, Sections 3 and 4

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