Full Faith and Credit Miscellany

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.


Full Faith and Credit in Federal Courts

The rule of 28 U. S. C. §§ 1738–1739 pertains not merely to recognition by state courts of the records and judicial proceedings of courts of sister states but to recognition by “every court within the United States,” including recognition of the records and proceedings of the courts of any territory or any country subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The federal courts are bound to give to the judgments of the state courts the same faith and credit that the courts of one state are bound to give to the judgments of the courts of her sister states.145 Where suits to enforce the laws of one state are entertained in courts of another on principles of comity, federal district courts sitting in that state may entertain them and should, if they do not infringe federal law or policy.146 However, the refusal of a territorial court in Hawaii, which had jurisdiction of the action on a policy issued by a New York insurance company, to admit evidence that an administrator had been appointed and a suit brought by him on a bond in the federal court in New York in which no judgment had been entered, did not violate this clause.147

The power to prescribe the effect to be given to the judicial proceedings of the courts of the United States is conferred by other provisions of the Constitution, such as those that declare the extent of the judicial power of the United States, which authorize all legislation necessary and proper for executing the powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, and which declare the supremacy of the authority of the National Government within the limits of the Constitution. As part of its general authority, the power to give effect to the judgment of its courts is coextensive with its territorial jurisdiction.148

Evaluation Of Results Under Provision

The Court, after according an extrastate operation to statutes and judicial decisions in favor of defendants in transitory actions, proceeded next to confer the same protection upon certain classes of defendants in local actions in which the plaintiff’s claim was the outgrowth of a relationship formed extraterritorially. But can the Court stop at this point? If it is true, as Chief Justice Marshall once remarked, that “the Constitution was not made for the benefit of plaintiffs alone,” so also it is true that it was not made for the benefit of defendants alone. The day may come when the Court will approach the question of the relation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause to the extrastate operation of laws from the same angle as it today views the broader question of the scope of state legislative power. When and if this day arrives, state statutes and judicial decisions will be given such extraterritorial operation as seems reasonable to the Court to give them. In short, the rule of the dominance of legal policy of the forum state will be superseded by that of judicial review.149

The question arises whether the application to date, not by the Court alone but by Congress as well, of Article IV, § 1, can be said to have met the expectations of its Framers. In the light of some things said at the time of the framing of the clause, this may be doubted. The protest was raised against the clause that, in vesting Congress with power to declare the effect state laws should have outside the enacting state, it enabled the new government to usurp the powers of the states, but the objection went unheeded. The main concern of the Convention, undoubtedly, was to render the judgments of the state courts in civil cases effective throughout the Union. Yet even this object has been by no means completely realized, owing to the doctrine of the Court, that before a judgment of a state court can be enforced in a sister state, a new suit must be brought on it in the courts of the latter, and the further doctrine that with respect to such a suit, the judgment sued on is only evidence; the logical deduction from this proposition is that the sister state is under no constitutional compulsion to give it a forum. These doctrines were first clearly stated in McElmoyle and flowed directly from the new states’ rights premises of the Court, but they are no longer in harmony with the prevailing spirit of constitutional construction nor with the needs of the times. Also, the clause seems always to have been interpreted on the basis of the assumption that the term “judicial proceedings” refers only to final judgments and does not include intermediate processes and writs, but the assumption would seem to be groundless, and if it is, then Congress has the power under the clause to provide for the service and execution throughout the United States of the judicial processes of the several states.

145 Cooper v. Newell, 173 U.S. 555, 567 (1899), See also Pennington v. Gibson, 57 U.S. (16 How.) 65, 81 (1854); Cheever v. Wilson, 76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 108, 123 (1870); Wisconsin v. Pelican Ins. Co., 127 U.S. 265, 291 (1888); Swift v. McPherson, 232 U.S. 51 (1914); Baldwin v. Traveling Men’s Ass’n, 283 U.S. 522 (1931); American Surety Co. v. Baldwin, 287 U.S. 156 (1932); Sanders v. Fertilizer Works, 292 U.S. 190 (1934); Durfee v. Duke, 375 U.S. 106 (1963); Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90 (1980); Kremer v. Chemical Const. Corp., 456 U.S. 461 (1982).

146 Milwaukee County v. White Co., 296 U.S. 268 (1935).

147 Equitable Life Assurance Society v. Brown, 187 U.S. 308 (1902). See also Gibson v. Lyon, 115 U.S. 439 (1885).

148 Embry v. Palmer, 107 U.S. 3, 9 (1883). See also Northern Assurance Co. v. Grand View Ass’n, 203 U.S. 106 (1906); Louisville & Nashville R.R. v. Stock Yards Co., 212 U.S. 132 (1909); Atchison, T. & S.F. Ry. v. Sowers, 213 U.S. 55 (1909); West Side R.R. v. Pittsburgh Const. Co., 219 U.S. 92 (1911); Knights of Pythias v. Meyer, 265 U.S. 30, 33 (1924).

149 Reviewing some of the cases treated in this section, a writer in 1926 said: “It appears, then, that the Supreme Court has quite definitely committed itself to a program of making itself, to some extent, a tribunal for bringing about uniformity in the field of conflicts . . . although the precise circumstances under which it will regard itself as having jurisdiction for this purpose are far from clear.” Dodd, The Power of the Supreme Court to Review State Decisions in the Field of Conflict of Laws, 39 Harv. L. Rev. 533, 562 (1926). It can hardly be said that the law has been subsequently clarified on this point.

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