Access to Courts

The right to sue and defend in the courts is one of the highest and most essential privileges of citizenship and must be allowed by each state to the citizens of all other states to the same extent that it is allowed to its own citizens.210 The constitutional requirement is satisfied if the nonresident is given access to the courts of the state upon terms that, in themselves, are reasonable and adequate for the enforcing of any rights he may have, even though they may not be technically the same as those accorded to resident citizens.211 The Supreme Court upheld a state statute of limitations that prevented a nonresident from suing in the state’s courts after expiration of the time for suit in the place where the cause of action arose212 and another such statute which that suspended its operation as to resident plaintiffs, but not as to nonresidents, during the period of the defendant’s absence from the state.213 A state law making it discretionary with the courts to entertain an action by a nonresident of the state against a foreign corporation doing business in the state was sustained because it was applicable alike to citizens and noncitizens residing out of the state.214 A statute permitting a suit in the courts of the state for wrongful death occurring outside the state, only if the decedent was a resident of the state, was sustained, because it operated equally upon representatives of the deceased whether citizens or noncitizens.215 Being patently nondiscriminatory, a Uniform Reciprocal State Law to secure the attendance of witnesses from within or without a state in criminal proceedings, whereunder an Illinois resident, while temporarily in Florida, was summoned to appear at a hearing for determination as to whether he should be surrendered to a New York officer for testimony in the latter state, does not violate this clause.216


Chambers v. Baltimore & O.R.R., 207 U.S. 142, 148 (1907); McKnett v. St. Louis & S.F. Ry., 292 U.S. 230, 233 (1934). [Back to text]
Canadian Northern Ry. v. Eggen, 252 U.S. 553 (1920). [Back to text]
252 U.S. at 563. [Back to text]
Chemung Canal Bank v. Lowery, 93 U.S. 72, 76 (1876). [Back to text]
Douglas v. New York, N.H. & H.R.R., 279 U.S. 377 (1929). [Back to text]
Chambers v. Baltimore & O.R.R., 207 U.S. 142 (1907). [Back to text]
New York v. O’Neill, 359 U.S. 1 (1959). Justices Douglas and Black dissented. [Back to text]