Corfield v. Coryell

Corfield v. Coryell (6 Fed. Cas. 546, no. 3,230 C.C.E.D.Pa. 1823) is a landmark 1823 federal circuit court case decided by Justice Bushrod Washington, sitting by designation as a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In it, he upheld a New Jersey regulation forbidding non-residents from gathering oysters and clams against a challenge that New Jersey's law violated the Article IV Privileges and Immunities Clause and that the New Jersey law regulated interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause.


The most-cited aspect of Corfield v. Coryell is Justice Washington's listing of the "privileges and immunities" enjoyed by citizens of the United States:

The inquiry is, what are the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states? We feel no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are, in their nature, fundamental; which belong, of right, to the citizens of all free governments; and which have, at all times, been enjoyed by the citizens of the several states which compose this Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign. What these fundamental principles are, it would perhaps be more tedious than difficult to enumerate. They may, however, be all comprehended under the following general heads: Protection by the government; the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to pursue and obtain happiness and safety; subject nevertheless to such restraints as the government may justly prescribe for the general good of the whole. The right of a citizen of one state to pass through, or to reside in any other state, for purposes of trade, agriculture, professional pursuits, or otherwise; to claim the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus; to institute and maintain actions of any kind in the courts of the state; to take, hold and dispose of property, either real or personal; and an exemption from higher taxes or impositions that are paid by the other citizens of the state; may be mentioned as some of the particular privileges and immunities of citizens, which are clearly embraced by the general description of privileges deemed to be fundamental: to which may be added, the elective franchise, as regulated and established by the laws or constitution of the state in which it is to be exercised. These, and many others which might be mentioned, are, strictly speaking, privileges and immunities, and the enjoyment of them by the citizens of each state, in every other state, was manifestly calculated (to use the expressions of the preamble of the corresponding provision in the old articles of confederation) "the better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different states of the Union."

Influence on Fourteenth AmendmentEdit

The well-known passage from Corfield was quoted in reference to the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment (substantially authored by John Bingham), during congressional debates on the Amendment, for an indication of what the judiciary had interpreted the phrase "privileges and immunities" to mean as it stood in the original Constitution (Article 4 Section 2), but there is substantial evidence to the effect that some congressmen, at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, did not accept Justice Washington's reading of the term. Justice Washington's assessment is often cited by those who advocate a broader reading of the Fourteenth Amendment Privileges or Immunities Clause than the Supreme Court gave in the Slaughter-House Cases.

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