Kotch v. Board of River Port Pilot Com Rs For Port of New Orleans

Citation67 S.Ct. 910,330 U.S. 552,91 L.Ed. 1093
Decision Date31 March 1947
Docket NumberNo. 291,291
PartiesKOTCH et al. v. BOARD OF RIVER PORT PILOT COM'RS FOR PORT OF NEW ORLEANS et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

See 331 U.S. 864, 67 S.Ct. 1196.

Messrs. Charles A. O'Niell, Jr., and M. A. Grace, both of New Orleans, La., for appellants.

Mr. Arthur A. Moreno, of New Orleans, La., for appellees.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Louisiana statutes provide in general that all seagoing vessels moving between New Orleans and foreign ports must be navigated through the Mississippi River approaches to the port of New Orleans and within it, exclusively by pilots who are State Officers.1 New State pilots are appointed by the governor only upon certification of a State Board of River Pilot Commissioners, themselves pilots.2 Only those who have served a six month apprenticeship under incumbent pilots and who possess other § ecific qualifications may be certified to the governor by the board.3 Appellants here have had at least fifteen years experience in the river, the port, and else where, as pilots of vessels whose pilotage was not governed by the State law in question.4 Although they possess all the statutory qualifications except that they have not served the requisite six months apprenticeship under Louisiana officer pilots,5 they have been denied appointment as State pilots. Seeking relief in a Louisiana state court, they alleged that the incumbent pilots, having unfettered discretion under the law in the selection of apprentices, had selected with occasional exception, only the relatives and friends of incumbents; that the selections were made by electing prosepective apprentices into the pilots' association, which the pilots have formed by authority of State law;6 that since 'membership * * * is closed to all except those having the favor of the pilots' the result is that only their relatives and friends have and can become State pilots.7 The Supreme Court of Louisiana has held that the pilotage law so administered does not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, 209 La. 737, 25 So.2d 527. The case is here on appeal from that decision under 28 U.S.C. § 344(a), 28 U.S.C.A. § 344(a).

The constitutional command for a state to afford 'equal protection of the laws' sets a goal not attainable by the invention and application of a precise formula. This Court has never attempted that impossible task. A law which affects the activities of some groups differently from the way in which it affects the activities of other groups is not necessarily banned by the Fourteenth Amendment. See e.g., Tigner v. State of Texas, 310 U.S. 141, 147, 60 S.Ct. 879, 882, 84 L.Ed. 1124, 130 A.L.R. 1321. Otherwise, effective regulation in the public interest could not be provided, however essential that regulation might be. For it is axiomatic that the consequence of regulating by setting apart a classified group is that those in it will be subject to some restrictions or receive certain advantages that do not apply to other groups or to all the public. Atchison, T. & S.F.R. Co. v. Matthews, 174 U.S. 96, 106, 19 S.Ct. 609, 613, 43 L.Ed. 909. This selective application of a regulation is discrimination in the broad sense, but it may or may not deny equal protection of the laws. Clearly, it might offend that constitutional safeguard if it rested on grounds wholly irrelevant to achievement of the regulation's objectives. An example would be a law applied to deny a person a right to earn a living or hold any job because of hostility to his particular race, religion, beliefs, or because of any other reason having no rational relation to the regulated activities. See American Sugar Refining Co. v. State of Louisiana, 179 U.S. 89, 92, 21 S.Ct. 43, 45, 45 L.Ed. 102.

The case of Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 30 L.Ed. 220, relied on by appellants, is an illustration of a type of discrimination which is incompatible with any fair conception of equal protection of the laws. Yick Wo was denied the right to engage in an occupation supposedly open to all who could conduct their business in accordance with the law's requirements. He could meet these requirements, but was denied the right to do so solely because he was Chinese. And it made no difference that under the law as written Yick Wo would have enjoyed the same protection as all others. Its unequal application to Yick Wo was enough to condemn it. But Yick Wo's case, as other cases have demonstrated, was tested by the language of the law there considered and the administration there shown. Cf. Crowley v. Christensen, 137 U.S. 86, 93, 94, 11 S.Ct. 13, 16, 17, 34 L.Ed. 620; Gundling v. City of Chicago, 177 U.S. 183, 20 S.Ct. 633, 44 L.Ed. 725; People of State of New York ex rel. Lieberman v. Van De Carr, 199 U.S. 552, 26 S.Ct. 144, 50 L.Ed. 305; Engel v. O'Malley, 219 U.S. 128, 137, 31 S.Ct. 190, 192, 55 L.Ed. 128. So here, we must consider the relationship of the method of appointing pilots to the broad objectives of the entire Louisiana pilotage law. See Grainger v. Douglas Park Jockey Club, 6 Cir., 148 F. 513, and cases there cited. In so doing we must view the appointment system in the context of the historical evolution of the laws and institution of pilotage in Louisiana and elsewhere. Cf. Otis Co. v. Ludlow Mfg. Co. 201 U.S. 140, 154, 26 S.Ct. 353, 355, 50 L.Ed. 696; Jackman v. Rosenbaum, 260 U.S. 22, 31, 43 S.Ct. 9, 10, 67 L.Ed. 107; Bayside Fish Flour Co. v. Gentry, 297 U.S. 422, 428 430, 56 S.Ct. 513, 515—517, 80 L.Ed. 388. And an important factor in our consideration is that this case tests the right and power of a state to select its own agents and officers. Taylor v. Beckham, 178 U.S. 548, 20 S.Ct. 1009, 44 L.Ed. 1187; Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1, 11—13, 64 S.Ct. 397, 402—404, 88 L.Ed. 497.

Studies of the long history of pilotage reveal that it is a unique institution and must be judged as such.8 In order to avoid invisible hazards, vessels approaching and leaving ports must be conducted from and to open waters by persons intimately familiar with the local waters. The pilot's job generally requires that he go outside the harbor's entrance in a small boat to meet incoming ships, board them and direct their course from open waters to the port. The same service is performed for vessels leaving the port. Pilots are thus indispensable cogs in the transportation system of every maritime economy. Their work prevents traffic congestion and accidents which would impair navigation in and to the ports. It affects the safety of lives and cargo, the cost and time expended in port calls, and in some measure, the competitive attractiveness of particular ports. Thus, for the same reasons that governments of most maritime communities have subsidized, regulated, or have themselves operated docks and other harbor facilities and sought to improve the approaches to their ports, they have closely regulated and often operated their ports' pilotage system.9

The history and practice of pilotage demonstrate that, although inextricably geared to a complex commercial economy, it is also a highly personalized calling.10 A pilot does not require a formalized technical education so much as a detailed and extremely intimate, almost intuitive, knowledge of the weather, waterways and conformation of the harbor or river which he serves. This seems to be particularly true of the approaches to New Orleans through the treacherous and shifting channel of the Mississippi River.11 Moreover, harbor entrances where pilots can most conveniently make their homes and still be close to places where they board incoming and leave outgoing ships are usually some distance from the port cities they serve.12 These 'pilot towns' have begun, and generally exist today, as small communities of pilots perhaps near, but usually distinct from the port cities.13 In these communities young men have an opportunity to acquire special knowledge of the weather and water hazards of the locality and seem to grow up with ambitions to become pilots in the traditions of their fathers, relatives, and neighbors. 14 We are asked, in effect, to say that Louisiana is without constitutional authority to conclude that apprenticeship under persons specially interested in a pilot's future is the best way to fit him for duty as a pilot officer in the service of the State.

The States have had full power to regulate pilotage of certain kinds of vessels since 1789 when the first Congress decided that then existing state pilot laws were satisfactory and made federal regulation unnecessary. 1 Stat. 53, 54 (1789), 46 U.S.C. § 211, 46 U.S.C.A. § 211; Olsen v. Smith, 195 U.S. 332, 341, 25 S.Ct. 52, 53, 49 L.Ed. 224; Anderson v. Pacific Coast S.S. Co., 225 U.S. 187, 32 S.Ct. 626, 56 L.Ed. 1047. Louisiana legislation has controlled the activities and appointment of pilots since 1805—even before the Territory was admitted as a State.15 The State pilotage system, as it has evolved since 1805, is typical of that which grew up in most seaboard states and in foreign countries.16 Since 1805 Louisiana pilots have been State officers whose work has been controlled by the State.17 That Act forbade all but a limited number of pilots appointed by the governor to serve in that capacity. The pilots so appointed were authorized to select their own deputies.18 But pilots, and through them, their deputies, were literally under the command of the master and the wardens of the port of New Orleans, appointed by the governor. The master and wardens were authorized to make rules governing the practices of pilots, specifically empowered to order pilots to their stations, and to fine them for disobedience to orders or rules. And the pilots were required to make official bond for faithful performance of their duty. Pilots' fees were fixed;19 ships coming to the Mississippi were required to pay pilotage whether they took on pilots...

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