Hughes v. Oklahoma
Annotate this Case
441 U.S. 322 (1979)
U.S. Supreme Court
Hughes v. Oklahoma, 441 U.S. 322 (1979)
Hughes v. Oklahoma
Argued January 9, 1979
Decided April 24, 1979
441 U.S. 322
An Oklahoma statute prohibits transporting or shipping outside the State for sale natural minnows seined or procured from waters within the State. Appellant, who holds a Texas license to operate a commercial minnow business in Texas, was charged with violating the Oklahoma statute by transporting from Oklahoma to Texas a load of natural minnows purchased from a minnow dealer licensed to do business in Oklahoma. Appellant's defense that the Oklahoma statute was unconstitutional because it was repugnant to the Commerce Clause was rejected, and he was convicted and fined. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, relying on Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U. S. 519, which had sustained against a Commerce Clause challenge a Connecticut statute forbidding the transportation beyond the State of game birds that had been lawfully killed within the State. The Geer decision rested on the holding that no interstate commerce was involved, because the State had the power, as representative for its citizens, who "owned" in common all wild animals within the State, to control the "ownership" of game that had been lawfully reduced to possession, and had exercised its power by prohibiting its removal from the State.
Held: The Oklahoma statute is repugnant to the Commerce Clause. Pp. 441 U. S. 325-339.
(a) Geer v. Connecticut, supra, is overruled. Time has revealed the error of the result reached in Geer through its application of the 19th-century legal fiction of state ownership of wild animals. Challenges under the Commerce Clause to state regulations of wild animals should be considered according to the same general rule applied to state regulations of other natural resources. Pp. 441 U. S. 326-335.
(b) Under that general rule, this Court must inquire whether the challenged statute regulates evenhandedly with only "incidental" effects on interstate commerce, or discriminates against interstate commerce either on its face or in practical effect; whether the statute serves a legitimate local purpose; and, if so, whether alternative means could promote this local purpose as well without discriminating against interstate commerce. P. 441 U. S. 336.
(c) The Oklahoma statute, on its face, discriminates against interstate
commerce by forbidding the transportation of natural minnows out of the State for purposes of sale, and thus overtly blocking the flow of interstate commerce at the State's border. The statute is not a "last ditch" attempt at conservation after nondiscriminatory alternatives have proved unfeasible. It is, rather, a choice of the most discriminatory means, even though nondiscriminatory alternatives would seem likely to fulfill the State's purported legitimate local purpose of conservation more effectively. Pp. 441 U. S. 336-338.
(d) States may promote the legitimate purpose of protecting and conserving wild animal life within their borders only in ways consistent with the basic principle that the pertinent economic unit is the Nation; and when a wild animal becomes an article of commerce, its use cannot be limited to the citizens of one State to the exclusion of citizens of another State. Pp. 338-339.
572 P.2d 573, reversed.
BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 441 U. S. 339.
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