441 U.S. 322 (1979), 77-1439, Hughes v. Oklahoma

Docket Nº:No. 77-1439
Citation:441 U.S. 322, 99 S.Ct. 1727, 60 L.Ed.2d 250
Party Name:Hughes v. Oklahoma
Case Date:April 24, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 322

441 U.S. 322 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 1727, 60 L.Ed.2d 250

Hughes

v.

Oklahoma

No. 77-1439

United States Supreme Court

April 24, 1979

Argued January 9, 1979

APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF OKLAHOMA

Syllabus

An Oklahoma statute prohibits transporting or shipping outside the State for sale natural minnows seined or procured from waters within the State. Appellant, who holds a Texas license to operate a commercial minnow business in Texas, was charged with violating the Oklahoma statute by transporting from Oklahoma to Texas a load of natural minnows purchased from a minnow dealer licensed to do business in Oklahoma. Appellant's defense that the Oklahoma statute was unconstitutional because it was repugnant to the Commerce Clause was rejected, and he was convicted and fined. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, relying on Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519, which had sustained against a Commerce Clause challenge a Connecticut statute forbidding the transportation beyond the State of game birds that had been lawfully killed within the State. The Geer decision rested on the holding that no interstate commerce was involved, because the State had the power, as representative for its citizens, who "owned" in common all wild animals within the State, to control the "ownership" of game that had been lawfully reduced to possession, and had exercised its power by prohibiting its removal from the State.

Held: The Oklahoma statute is repugnant to the Commerce Clause. Pp. 325-339.

(a) Geer v. Connecticut, supra, is overruled. Time has revealed the error of the result reached in Geer through its application of the 19th-century legal fiction of state ownership of wild animals. Challenges under the Commerce Clause to state regulations of wild animals should be considered according to the same general rule applied to state regulations of other natural resources. Pp. 326-335.

(b) Under that general rule, this Court must inquire whether the challenged statute regulates evenhandedly with only "incidental" effects on interstate commerce, or discriminates against interstate commerce either on its face or in practical effect; whether the statute serves a legitimate local purpose; and, if so, whether alternative means could promote this local purpose as well without discriminating against interstate commerce. P. 336.

(c) The Oklahoma statute, on its face, discriminates against interstate

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commerce by forbidding the transportation of natural minnows out of the State for purposes of sale, and thus overtly blocking the flow of interstate commerce at the State's border. The statute is not a "last ditch" attempt at conservation after nondiscriminatory alternatives have proved unfeasible. It is, rather, a choice of the most discriminatory means, even though nondiscriminatory alternatives would seem likely to fulfill the State's purported legitimate local purpose of conservation more effectively. Pp. 336-338.

(d) States may promote the legitimate purpose of protecting and conserving wild animal life within their borders only in ways consistent with the basic principle that the pertinent economic unit is the Nation; and when a wild animal becomes an article of commerce, its use cannot be limited to the citizens of one State to the exclusion of citizens of another State. Pp. 338-339.

572 P.2d 573, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 339.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented for decision is whether Okla.Stat., Tit. 29, § 4-115(B) (Supp. 1978), violates the Commerce Clause, Art. I, § 8, cl. 3, of the United States Constitution, insofar as it provides that "[n]o person may transport or ship minnows for sale outside the state which were seined or procured within the waters of this state. . . ."1

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Appellant William Hughes holds a Texas license to operate a commercial minnow business near Wichita Falls, Tex. An Oklahoma game ranger arrested him on a charge of violating § 4-115(B) by transporting from Oklahoma to Wichita Falls a load of natural minnows purchased from a minnow dealer licensed to do business in Oklahoma. Hughes' defense that § 4-115(B) was unconstitutional because it was repugnant to the Commerce Clause was rejected, and he was convicted and fined. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, stating:

The United States Supreme Court has held on numerous occasions that the wild animals and fish within a state's border are, so far as capable of ownership, owned by the state in its sovereign capacity for the common

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benefit of all its people. Because of such ownership, and in the exercise of its police power, the state may regulate and control the taking, subsequent use and property rights that may be acquired therein. Lacoste v. Department of Conservation, 263 U.S. 545 . . . ; Geer v. State of Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519. . . . As stated in Lacoste, supra, protection of the wildlife of a state is peculiarly within the police power of the state, an the state has great latitude in determining what means are appropriate for its protection.

. . . Oklahoma law does not prohibit commercial minnow hatcheries within her borders from selling stock minnows to anyone, resident or nonresident, and minnows purchased therefrom may be freely exported. However, the law served to protect against the depletion of minnows in Oklahoma's natural streams through commercial exportation. No person is allowed to export natural minnows for sale outside of Oklahoma. Such a prohibition is not repugnant to [99 S.Ct. 1731] the commerce clause. . . .

572 P.2d 573, 575 (1977). We noted probable jurisdiction, 439 U.S. 815 (1978). We reverse. Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519 (1896), on which the Court of Criminal Appeals relied, is overruled. In that circumstance, § 4-115(B) cannot survive appellant's Commerce Clause attack.

I

The few simple words of the Commerce Clause -- "The Congress shall have Power . . . To regulate Commerce . . . among the several States . . ." -- reflected a central concern of the Framers that was an immediate reason for calling the Constitutional Convention: the conviction that, in order to succeed, the new Union would have to avoid the tendencies toward economic Balkanization that had plagued relations among the Colonies and later among the States under the Articles of Confederation.

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See H. P. Hood & Sons, Inc. v. Du Mond, 336 U.S. 525, 533-534 (1949). The Commerce Clause has accordingly been interpreted by this Court not only as an authorization for congressional action, but also, even in the absence of a conflicting federal statute, as a restriction on permissible state regulation.2 The cases defining the cope of permissible state regulation in areas of congressional silence reflect an often controversial evolution of rules to accommodate federal and state interests.3 Geer v. Connecticut was decided relatively early in that evolutionary process. We hold that time has revealed the error of the early resolution reached in that case, and accordingly, Geer is today overruled.

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A

Geer sustained against a Commerce Clause challenge a statute forbidding the transportation beyond the State of game birds that had been lawfully killed within the State.4 The decision rested on the holding [99 S.Ct. 1732] that no interstate commerce was involved. This conclusion followed, in turn, from the view that the State had the power, as representative for its citizens, who "owned" in common all wild animals within the State, to control not only the taking of game but also the ownership of game that had been lawfully reduced to possession.5 By virtue of this power, Connecticut could qualify the ownership of wild game taken within the State by, for example, prohibiting its removal from the State: "The common ownership imports the right to keep the property, if the sovereign so chooses, always within its jurisdiction for every purpose." 161 U.S. at 530. Accordingly, the State's power to qualify ownership raised serious doubts whether the sale or exchange of wild game constituted "commerce" at all; in any event, the Court held that the qualification imposed by the challenged statute removed any transactions involving wild game killed in Connecticut from interstate commerce.6

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Mr. Justice Field and the first Mr. Justice Harlan dissented, rejecting as artificial and formalistic the Court's analysis of "ownership" and "commerce" in wild game. They would have affirmed the State's power to provide for the protection of wild game, but only "so far as such protection . . . does not contravene the power of Congress in the regulation of interstate

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commerce."7 Their view was that,

[w]hen any animal . . . is lawfully killed for the purposes of food or other uses of man, it becomes an article of commerce, and its use cannot be limited to the citizens of one State to the exclusion of citizens of another State.8

B

The view of the Geer dissenters increasingly prevailed in subsequent cases. Indeed, [99 S.Ct. 1733] not only has the Geer analysis been rejected when natural resources other than wild game were involved, but even state regulations of wild game have been held subject to the strictures of the Commerce Clause under the pretext of distinctions from Geer.

The erosion of Geer began only 15 years after it was decided. A Commerce Clause challenge was addressed to an Oklahoma statute designed to prohibit the transportation beyond the State of natural gas produced by wells within the State. ...

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