Hines v. Davidowitz

Citation85 L.Ed. 581,312 U.S. 52,61 S.Ct. 399
Decision Date20 January 1941
Docket NumberNo. 22,22
PartiesHINES, Secretary of Labor and Industry of Pennsylvania, et al. v. DAVIDOWITZ et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. William S. Rial, of Greensburg, Pa., M. Louise Rutherford, of Philadelphia, Pa., and Claude T. Reno, of Allentown, Pa., for appellants.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 53-55 intentionally omitted] Mr. Isidor Ostroff, of Philadelphia, Pa., for appellees.

Francis Biddle, Sol. Gen., for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

[Argument of Counsel from Pages 56-58 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves the validity of an Alien Registration Act adopted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.1 The Act, passed in 1939, requires every alien 18 years or over, with certain exceptions,2 to register once each year; provide such information as is required by the statute, plus any 'other information and details' that the Department of Labor and Industry may direct; pay $1 as an annual registration fee; receive an alien identification card and carry it at all times; show the card whenever it may be demanded by any police officer or any agent of the Department of Labor and Industry; and exhibit the card as a condition precedent to registering a motor vehicle in his name or obtaining a license to operate one. The Department of Labor and Industry is charged with the duties of classifying the registrations for 'the purpose of ready reference', and furnishing a copy of the classification to the Pennsylvania Motor Police. Nonexempt aliens who fail to register are subject to a fine of not more than $100 or imprisonment for not more than 60 days, or both. For failure to carry an identification card or for failure to show it upon proper demand, the punishment is a fine of not more than $10, or imprisonment for not more than 10 dyas, or both.

A three-judge District Court enjoined enforcement of the Act, holding that it denied aliens equal protection of the laws, and that it encroached upon legislative powers constitutionally vested in the federal government.3 It is that judgment we are here called upon to review.4 But in 1940, after the court had held that Pennsylvania Act invalid, Congress enacted a federal Alien Registration Act.5 We must therefore pass upon the state Act in the light of the Congressional Act.6

The federal Act provides for a single registration of aliens 14 years of age and over; detailed information specified by the Act, plus 'such additional matters as may be prescribed by the Commissioner, with the approval of the Attorney General'; finger-printing of all registrants; and secrecy of the federal files, which can be 'made available only to such persons or agencies as may be designated by the Commissioner, with the approval of the Attorney General.' No requirement that aliens carry a registration card to be exhibited to police or others is embodied in the law, and only the wilful failure to register is made a criminal offense; punishment is fixed at a fine of not more than $1000, imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both.

The basic subject of the state and federal laws is identical registration of aliens as a distinct group. Appellants urge that the Pennsylvania law 'was constitutional when passed', and that 'The only question is whether the state act is in abeyance or whether the state and Federal Government have concurrent jurisdiction to register aliens for the protection of inhabitants and property.' Appellees, on the other hand, contend that the Pennsylvania Act is invalid, for the reasons that it (1) denies equal protection of the laws to aliens residing in the state; (2) violates section 16 of the Civil Rights Act of 1870;7 (3) exceeds Pennsylvania's constitutional power in requiring registration of aliens without Congressional consent. Appellees' final contention is that the power to restrict, limit, regulate and register aliens as a distinct group is not an equal and continuously existing concurrent power of state and nation, but that even if the state can legislate on this subject at all, its power is subordinate to supreme national law. Appellees conclude that by its adoption of a comprehensive, integrated scheme for regulation of aliens including its 1940 registration act—Congress has precluded state action like that taken by Pennsylvania.8

In the view we take it is not necessary to pass upon appellees' first, second, and third contentions, and so we pass immediately to their final question, expressly leaving open all of appellees' other contentions, including the argument that the federal power in this field, whether exercised or unexercised, is exclusive. Obviously the answer to appellees' final question depends upon an analysis of the respective powers of state and national governments in the regulation of aliens as such, and a determination of whether Congress has, by its action, foreclosed enforcement of Pennsylvania's registration law.

First. That the supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution was pointed out by authors of The Federalist in 1787,9 and has since been given continuous recognition by this Court.10 When the national government by treaty or statute has established rules and regulations touching the rights, privileges, obligations or burdens of aliens as such, the treaty or statute is the supreme law of the land. No state can add to or take from the force and effect of such treaty or statute, for Article VI of the Constitution provides that 'This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.' The Federal Government, representing as it does the collective interests of the forty-eight states, is entrusted with full and exclusive responsibility for the conduct of affairs with foreign sovereignties. 'For local interests the several states of the Union exist, but for national purposes, embracing our relations with foreign nations, we are but one people, one nation, one power.'11 Our system of government is such that the interest of the cities, counties and states, no less than the interest of the people of the whole nation, imperatively requires that federal power in the field affecting foreign relations be left entirely free from local interference. As Mr. Justice Miller well observed of a California statute burdening immigration: 'If (the United States) should get into a difficulty which would lead to war, or to suspension of intercourse, would California alone suffer, or all the Union?'12

One of the most important and delicate of all international relationships, recognized immemorially as a responsibility of government, has to do with the protection of the just rights of a country's own nationals when those nationals are in another country. Experience has shown that international controversies of the gravest moment, sometimes even leading to war, may arise from real or imagined wrongs to another's subjects inflicted, or permitted, by a government.13 This country, like other nations, has entered into numerous treaties of amity and commerce since its inception—treaties entered into under express constitutional authority, and binding upon the states as well as the nation. Among those treaties have been many which not only promised and guaranteed broad rights and privileges to aliens sojourning in our own territory, but secured reciprocal promises and guarantees for our own citizens while in other lands. And apart from treaty obligations, there has grown up in the field of international relations a body of customs defining with more or less certainty the duties owing by all nations to alien residents—duties which our State Department has often successfully insisted foreign nations must recognize as to our nationals abroad.14 In general, both treaties and international practices have been aimed at preventing injurious discriminations against aliens. Concerning such treaties, this Court has said: 'While treaties, in safeguarding important rights in the interest of reciprocal beneficial relations, may by their express terms afford a measure of protection to aliens which citizens of one or both of the parties may not be able to demand against their own government, the general purpose of treaties of amity and commerce is to avoid injurious discrimination in either country against the citizens of the other.'15

Legal imposition of distinct, unusual and extraordinary burdens and obligations upon aliens—such as subjecting them alone, though perfectly law-abiding, to indiscriminate and repeated interception and interrogation by public officials—thus bears an inseparable relationship to the welfare and tranquillity of all the states, and not merely to the welfare and tranquillity of one. Laws imposing such burdens are not mere census requirements, and even though they may be immediately associated with the accomplishment of a local purpose, they provoke questions in the field of international affairs. And specialized regulation of the conduct of an alien before naturalization is a matter which Congress must consider in discharging its constitutional duty 'To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization * * *.' It cannot be doubted that both the state and the federal registration laws belong 'to that class of laws which concern the exterior relation of this whole nation with other nations and governments.'16 Consequently the regulation of aliens is so intimately blended and intertwined with responsibilities of the national government that where it acts, and the state also acts on the same...

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