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Toomer v. Witsell

    Citation. 334 U.S. 385, 68 S. Ct. 1156, 92 L. Ed. 1460, 1948 U.S.

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiffs, Toomer and other out-of-state commercial fisherman (Plaintiff), challenged a South Carolina Law that imposed higher license fees to out-of-state boats based than in state boats. The Plaintiffs based their challenge on the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. If a State violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges and Immunities Clause, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) must determine whether the law discriminates against citizens of other states and if so, whether there is a substantial reason for the discrimination beyond the mere fact that they are citizens of another state.

    Facts. South Carolina enacted a statute that imposed a license fee for out of state commercial shrimp boats that was 100 times greater than resident shrimp boats. The Plaintiffs sued saying it was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges and Immunities Clause. The Plaintiffs contended that the purpose of the statute was not to conserve shrimp, but to exclude out of state shrimp boats creating a monopoly for South Carolina fishermen.

    Issue. Does a state law that discriminates against out of state fishermen violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges and Immunities Clause where its purpose is to conserve natural resources, but its effect creates a monopoly for residents of the state?

    Held. Yes, the purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges and Immunities Clause was to help fuse the Nation, to ensure that people enjoy the same rights in each state. Therefore, the Privileges and Immunities Clause invalidates South Carolina’s license fee law.

    Discussion. Because of the nature of the Privileges and Immunities Clause, a citizen of State A may enjoy substantial equality with citizens of State B. Although it is not absolute, it does bar discrimination against citizens of other States where no substantial reason for the discrimination exists besides the fact that they are merely citizens of another state. The South Carolina law clearly discriminates against non-residents merely because they are non- residents of South Carolina.
    South Carolina contends that the purpose of the law was to protect natural resources, the State’s shrimp supply. However, the purpose of the Privileges and Immunities Clause is to outlaw classifications based on non-citizenship. Moreover, there was no indication that non-resident fishermen were the source of the problem that the statute was aimed. Therefore, the statute is unconstitutional.


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