Congressional Enforcement of Full Faith and Credit

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ArtIV.S1.1.2 Congressional Enforcement of Full Faith and Credit

Article IV, 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.

Under the present system, suit ordinarily must be brought where the defendant, the alleged wrongdoer, resides, which means generally where no part of the transaction giving rise to the action took place. What could be more irrational? “Granted that no state can of its own volition make its process run beyond its borders . . . is it unreasonable that the United States should by federal action be made a unit in the manner suggested?” 1

Indeed, there are few clauses of the Constitution, the merely literal possibilities of which have been so little developed as the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Congress has the power under the clause to decree the effect that the statutes of one state shall have in other states. This being so, it does not seem extravagant to argue that Congress may under the clause describe a certain type of divorce and say that it shall be granted recognition throughout the Union and that no other kind shall. Or to speak in more general terms, Congress has under the clause power to enact standards whereby uniformity of state legislation may be secured as to almost any matter in connection with which interstate recognition of private rights would be useful and valuable.

Doubtless Congress, by virtue of its powers in the field of foreign relations, might also lay down a mandatory rule regarding recognition of foreign judgments in every court of the United States. At present the duty to recognize judgments even in national courts rests only on comity and is qualified in the judgment of the Supreme Court, by a strict rule of parity.2 . Several States have similar provisions, 2 J. Moore, Digest of International Law 108–109 (1906).

Cook, The Power of Congress Under the Full Faith and Credit Clause, 28 Yale L.J. 421, 430 (1919). back
No right, privilege, or immunity is conferred by the Constitution in respect to judgments of foreign states and nations. Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Tremblay, 223 U.S. 185 (1912) . See also Hilton v. Guyot, 159 U.S. 113, 234 (1895), where a French judgment offered in defense was held not a bar to the suit. Four Justices dissented on the ground that “the application of the doctrine of res judicata does not rest in discretion; and it is for the Government, and not for its courts, to adopt the principle of retorsion, if deemed under any circumstances desirable or necessary.” At the same sitting of the Court, an action in a United States circuit court on a Canadian judgment was sustained on the same ground of reciprocity, Ritchie v. McMullen, 159 U.S. 235 (1895). See also Ingenohl v. Olsen & Co., 273 U.S. 541 (1927), where a decision of the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands was reversed for refusal to enforce a judgment of the Supreme Court of the British colony of Hong Kong, which was rendered “after a fair trial by a court having jurisdiction of the parties.” Another instance of international cooperation in the judicial field is furnished by letters rogatory. See 28 U.S.C. § 1781. Several States have similar provisions, 2 J. Moore, Digest of International Law 108–109 (1906). back

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