Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, known as the “Full Faith and Credit Clause,” requires each state to recognize the laws, judicial decisions, and public records of the other states. This section helps ensure that court decisions made in one state will be recognized and honored in every other state. One purpose for this is that it prevents someone from moving to another state to avoid a court judgment, or to file a new lawsuit in an attempt to obtain a more favorable outcome on a matter that has already been decided. To explore this concept, consider the following Full Faith and Credit Clause definition.
Definition of Full Faith and Credit
- The Constitutional obligation of each state to recognize and accept the judicial proceedings, public records, and legislative acts of every other state.
Late 18th century U.S. Constitution
Purpose of the Full Faith and Credit Clause
Specifically, Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states:
“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.”
The goal of the Framers of the Constitution in the Full Faith and Credit Clause was to unite the newborn country, while allowing the states to retain some autonomy. To do that, it was necessary to guarantee that judicial decisions and judgments rendered by a court in one state would be honored by the court in any other state.
Additionally, the clause prevented individuals from “forum shopping,” when they were unhappy with the decision handed down by one court, bringing the suit again in another state. A 1935 Supreme Court decision in Milwaukee County v. M. E. White Co., reaffirmed the intent to make the states “integral parts of a single nation,” in which a judgment is to be enforced, no matter its state of origin.
Full Faith and Credit in Action
The U.S. Constitution’s requirement that each state recognize the laws of other states applies to all areas of law, though some issues have become complicated in recent times. For example, the Full Faith and Credit Clause applies to family law in that custody orders and orders of protection are upheld and enforced in other states. Application of the clause to the family law issue of same-sex marriage, civil unions, and partnerships, however, is yet to be resolved.
Limitations of Full Faith and Credit
The Full Faith and Credit Clause does not require a state to substitute another state’s law or policy for its own, which means it does not have to honor something that is specifically against its own law. The issue of licensure is an example of this limitation. For example, Ron, who has a driver’s license in Arkansas, may legally drive during a visit to Missouri. If Ron moves to Missouri, however, he will be required to obtain a driver’s license in his new home state. This holds true for hunting licenses, marriage licenses, and firearm licenses.
Licensed professionals are another example of each state being allowed to maintain and honor only their own legislation. Doctors, pharmacists, contractors, attorneys, and other professionals who want to practice in multiple states must obtain a separate license in each state.
Full Faith and Credit and the Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court deals with the Full Faith and Credit Clause frequently, and has stated the clause may be used in three ways:
- Command Jurisdiction – The Supreme Court may order a state court to hear a case that began in another state. This applies primarily in issues for which the jurisdiction is not clear at in dispute.
- Command Applicable State Law – The Supreme Court may determine which state’s laws apply to a case involving more than one state. The state hearing the case, however, may use its own procedural laws, which determine how the case proceeds, and how evidence is presented.
- Direct and Enforce Judgments from other States – The Supreme Court may direct states to enforce judgments and orders made in other states.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Judgment – a formal decision made by a court in a lawsuit
- Forum Shopping – the practice of a litigant seeking to have a legal case heard in a court that might treat his case most favorably
- Jurisdiction – the legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments