436 U.S. 371 (1978)

Decided May 23, 1978

Oral Argument in Baldwin v Montana Fish and Game Comm'n

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents issues, under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Constitution's Art. IV, 2, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as to the constitutional validity of disparities, as between residents and nonresidents, in a State's hunting license system.


Appellant Lester Baldwin is a Montana resident. He also is an outfitter holding a state license as a hunting guide. The majority of his customers are nonresidents who come to Montana to hunt elk and other big game. Appellants Carlson, Huseby, Lee, and Moris are residents of Minnesota. They have hunted big game, particularly elk, in Montana in past years and wish to continue to do so.

In 1975, the five appellants, disturbed by the difference in the kinds of Montana elk-hunting licenses available to nonresidents, as contrasted with those available to residents of the State, and by the difference in the fees the nonresident and the resident must pay for their respective licenses, instituted the present federal suit for declaratory and injunctive relief and for reimbursement, in part, of fees already paid. The defendants were the Fish and Game Commission of the State of Montana, the Commission's director, and its five commissioners. The complaint challenged the Montana elk-hunting licensing scheme specifically, and asserted that, as applied to nonresidents, it violated the Constitution's Privileges and Immunities Clause, Art. IV, 2, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment....


The relevant facts are not in any real controversy and many of them are agreed:

A. For the 1975 hunting season, a Montana resident could purchase a license solely for elk for $4. The nonresident, however, in order to hunt elk, was required to purchase a combination license at a cost of $151; this entitled him to take one elk and two deer.

For the 1976 season, the Montana resident could purchase a license solely for elk for $9. The nonresident, in order to hunt elk, was required to purchase a combination license at a cost of $225; this entitled him to take one elk, one deer, one black bear, and game birds, and to fish with hook and line. A resident was not required to buy any combination of licenses, but if he did, the cost to him of all the privileges granted by the nonresident combination license was $30. The nonresident thus paid 7 1/2 times as much as the resident, and if the nonresident wished to hunt only elk, he paid 25 times as much as the resident.

B. Montana, with an area of more than 147,000 square miles, is our fourth largest State. Only Alaska, Texas, and California, in that order, are larger. But its population is relatively small; in 1972 it was approximately 716,000. Its 1974 per capita income was 34th among the 50 States.

Montana maintains significant populations of big game, including elk, deer, and antelope. Its elk population is one of the largest in the United States. Elk are prized by big-game hunters who come from near and far to pursue the animals for sport. The quest for big game has grown in popularity. During the 10-year period from 1960 to 1970 licenses issued by Montana increased by approximately 67% for residents and by approximately 530% for nonresidents.

Owing to its successful management programs for elk, the State has not been compelled to limit the overall number of hunters by means of drawings or lotteries as have other States with harvestable elk populations. Elk are not hunted commercially in Montana. Nonresident hunters seek the animal for its trophy value; the trophy is the distinctive set of antlers. The interest of resident hunters more often may be in the meat.  Elk are now found in the mountainous regions of western Montana and are generally not encountered in the eastern two-thirds of the State where the plains prevail. During the summer the animals move to higher elevations and lands that are largely federally owned. In the late fall they move down to lower privately owned lands that provide the winter habitat necessary to their survival. During the critical midwinter period elk are often supported by ranchers.

Elk management is expensive. In regions of the State with significant elk population, more personnel time of the Fish and Game Commission is spent on elk than on any other species of big game.

Montana has more than 400 outfitters who equip and guide hunting parties. These outfitters are regulated and licensed by the State and provide services to hunters and fishermen. It is estimated that as many as half the nonresidents who hunt elk in western Montana utilize outfitters. Three outfitter-witnesses testified that virtually all their clients were nonresidents.

The State has a force of 70 game wardens. Each warden district covers approximately 2,100 square miles.... 


Privileges and immunities. Appellants strongly urge here that the Montana licensing scheme for the hunting of elk violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Art. IV, 2, of our Constitution. That Clause is not one the contours of which have been precisely shaped by the process and wear of constant litigation and judicial interpretation over the years since 1789....

The Privileges and Immunities Clause originally was not isolated from the Commerce Clause, now in the Constitution's Art. I, 8. In the Articles of Confederation, where both Clauses have their source, the two concepts were together in the fourth Article.

Perhaps because of the imposition of the Fourteenth Amendment upon our constitutional consciousness and the extraordinary emphasis that the Amendment received, it is not surprising that the contours of Art. IV, 2, cl. 1, are not well developed, and that the relationship, if any, between the Privileges and Immunities Clause and the "privileges or immunities" language of the Fourteenth Amendment is less than clear. We are, nevertheless, not without some pronouncements by this Court as to the Clause's significance and reach. There are at least three general comments that deserve mention:

The first is that of Mr. Justice Field, writing for a unanimous Court in Paul v. Virginia (1869). He emphasized nationalism, the proscription of discrimination, and the assurance of equality of all citizens within any State: "It was undoubtedly the object of the clause in question to place the citizens of each State upon the same footing with citizens of other States, so far as the advantages resulting from citizenship in those States are concerned...".

The second came 70 years later when Mr. Justice Roberts, writing for himself and Mr. Justice Black in Hague v. CIO (1939), summed up the history of the Clause and pointed out what he felt to be the difference in analysis in the earlier cases from the analysis in later ones: "In any State every citizen of any other State is to have the same privileges and immunities which the citizens of that State enjoy. The section, in effect, prevents a State from discriminating against citizens of other States in favor of its own."

The third and most recent general pronouncement is that authored by MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL for a nearly unanimous Court in Austin v. New Hampshire (1975), stressing the Clause's "norm of comity" and the Framers' concerns: "The Clause thus establishes a norm of comity without specifying the particular subjects as to which citizens of one State coming within the jurisdiction of another are guaranteed equality of treatment. The origins of the Clause do reveal, however, the concerns of central import to the Framers. During the preconstitutional period, the practice of some States denying to outlanders the treatment that its citizens demanded for themselves was widespread. The fourth of the Articles of Confederation was intended to arrest this centrifugal tendency with some particularity. . . ."

When the Privileges and Immunities Clause has been applied to specific cases, it has been interpreted to prevent a State from imposing unreasonable burdens on citizens of other States in their pursuit of common callings within the State....It has not been suggested, however, that state citizenship or residency may never be used by a State to distinguish among persons. Suffrage, for example, always has been understood to be tied to an individual's identification with a particular State. No one would suggest that the Privileges and Immunities Clause requires a State to open its polls to a person who declines to assert that the State is the only one where he claims a right to vote. The same is true as to qualification for an elective office of the State.  Nor must a State always apply all its laws or all its services equally to anyone, resident or nonresident, who may request it so to do. Some distinctions between residents and nonresidents merely reflect the fact that this is a Nation composed of individual States, and are permitted; other distinctions are prohibited because they hinder the formation, the purpose, or the development of a single Union of those States. Only with respect to those "privileges" and "immunities" bearing upon the vitality of the Nation as a single entity must the State treat all citizens, resident and nonresident, equally. Here we must decide into which category falls a distinction with respect to access to recreational big-game hunting.

Many of the early cases embrace the concept that the States had complete ownership over wildlife within their boundaries, and, as well, the power to preserve this bounty for their citizens alone. It was enough to say "that in regulating the use of the common property of the citizens of [a] state, the legislature is [not] bound to extend to the citizens of all the other states the same advantages as are secured to their own citizens." Corfield v. Coryell (CC ED Pa. 1825). It appears to have been generally accepted that although the States were obligated to treat all those within their territory equally in most respects, they were not obliged to share those things they held in trust for their own people. In Corfield, a case the Court has described as "the first, and long the leading, explication of the [Privileges and Immunities] Clause," Mr. Justice Washington, sitting as Circuit Justice, although recognizing that the States may not interfere with 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," nonetheless concluded that access to oyster beds determined to be owned by New Jersey could be limited to New Jersey residents. This holding, and the conception of state sovereignty upon which it relied, formed the basis for similar decisions during later years of the 19th century.....

In more recent years, however, the Court has recognized that the States' interest in regulating and controlling those things they claim to "own," including wildlife, is by no means absolute. States may not compel the confinement of the benefits of their resources, even their wildlife, to their own people whenever such hoarding and confinement impedes interstate commerce. And a State's interest in its wildlife and other resources must yield when, without reason, it interferes with a nonresident's right to pursue a livelihood in a State other than his own, a right that is protected by the Privileges and Immunities Clause. Toomer v. Witsell (1948)....

Appellants contend that the doctrine on which Corfield relied has no remaining vitality. We do not agree. The fact that the State's control over wildlife is not exclusive and absolute in the face of federal regulation and certain federally protected interests does not compel the conclusion that it is meaningless in their absence.

We need look no further than decisions of this Court to know that this is so. It is true that in Toomer v. Witsell the Court in 1948 struck down a South Carolina statute requiring nonresidents of the State to pay a license fee of $2,500 for each commercial shrimp boat, and residents to pay a fee of only $25, and did so on the ground that the statute violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause. Less than three years, however, after the decision in Toomer, so heavily relied upon by appellants here, the Court dismissed for the want of a substantial federal question an appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court of South Dakota holding that the total exclusion from that State of nonresident hunters of migratory waterfowl was justified by the State's assertion of a special interest in wildlife that qualified as a substantial reason for the discrimination. In that case South Dakota had proved that there was real danger that the flyways, breeding grounds, and nursery for ducks and geese would be subject to excessive hunting and possible destruction by nonresident hunters lured to the State by an abundance of pheasants.

Appellants have demonstrated nothing to convince us that we should completely reject the Court's earlier decisions. In his opinion in Coryell, Mr. Justice Washington, although he seemingly relied on notions of "natural rights" when he considered the reach of the Privileges and Immunities Clause, included in his list of situations, in which he believed the States would be obligated to treat each other's residents equally, only those where a nonresident sought to engage in an essential activity or exercise a basic right. He himself used the term "fundamental," in the modern as well as the "natural right" sense.... So, too, did the Court when it was concerned with the pursuit of common callings, the ability to transfer property, and access to courts, respectively. And comparable status of the activity involved was apparent in Toomer, the commercial-licensing case. With respect to such basic and essential activities, interference with which would frustrate the purposes of the formation of the Union, the States must treat residents and nonresidents without unnecessary distinctions.

Does the distinction made by Montana between residents and nonresidents in establishing access to elk hunting threaten a basic right in a way that offends the Privileges and Immunities Clause? Merely to ask the question seems to provide the answer. We repeat much of what already has been said above: Elk hunting by nonresidents in Montana is a recreation and a sport. In itself - wholly apart from license fees - it is costly and obviously available only to the wealthy nonresident or to the one so taken with the sport that he sacrifices other values in order to indulge in it and to enjoy what it offers. It is not a means to the nonresident's livelihood. The mastery of the animal and the trophy are the ends that are sought; appellants are not totally excluded from these. The elk supply, which has been entrusted to the care of the State by the people of Montana, is finite and must be carefully tended in order to be preserved.

Appellants' interest in sharing this limited resource on more equal terms with Montana residents simply does not fall within the purview of the Privileges and Immunities Clause. Equality in access to Montana elk is not basic to the maintenance or well-being of the Union. Appellants do not - and cannot - contend that they are deprived of a means of a livelihood by the system or of access to any part of the State to which they may seek to travel. We do not decide the full range of activities that are sufficiently basic to the livelihood of the Nation that the States may not interfere with a nonresident's participation therein without similarly interfering with a resident's participation. Whatever rights or activities may be "fundamental" under the Privileges and Immunities Clause, we are persuaded, and hold, that elk hunting by nonresidents in Montana is not one of them....


Far more troublesome than the Court's narrow holding - elk hunting in Montana is not a privilege or immunity entitled to protection under Art. IV, 2, cl. 1, of the Constitution - is the rationale of the holding that Montana's elk-hunting licensing scheme passes constitutional muster. The Court concludes that because elk hunting is not a "basic and essential activit[y], interference with which would frustrate the purposes of the formation of the Union," ante, at 387, the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Art. IV, 2 - "The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States" - does not prevent Montana from irrationally, wantonly, and even invidiously discriminating against nonresidents seeking to enjoy natural treasures it alone among the 50 States possesses. I cannot agree that the Privileges and Immunities Clause is so impotent a guarantee that such discrimination remains wholly beyond the purview of that provision....

I think the time has come to confirm explicitly that which has been implicit in our modern privileges and immunities decisions, namely that an inquiry into whether a given right is "fundamental" has no place in our analysis of whether a State's discrimination against nonresidents - who "are not represented in the [discriminating] State's legislative halls" - violates the Clause. Rather, our primary concern is the State's justification for its discrimination. Drawing from the principles announced in Toomer and Mullaney, a State's discrimination against nonresidents is permissible where (1) the presence or activity of nonresidents is the source or cause of the problem or effect with which the State seeks to deal, and (2) the discrimination practiced against nonresidents bears a substantial relation to the problem they present. Although a State has no burden to prove that its laws are not violative of the Privileges and Immunities Clause, its mere assertion that the discrimination practiced against nonresidents is justified by the peculiar problem nonresidents present will not prevail in the face of a prima facie showing that the discrimination is not supportable on the asserted grounds. This requirement that a State's unequal treatment of nonresidents be reasoned and suitably tailored furthers the federal interest in ensuring that "a norm of comity,"  prevails throughout the Nation while simultaneously guaranteeing to the States the needed leeway to draw viable distinctions between their citizens and those of other States....


It is clear that under a proper privileges and immunities analysis Montana's discriminatory treatment of nonresident big-game hunters in this case must fall. Putting aside the validity of the requirement that nonresident hunters desiring to hunt elk must purchase a combination license that resident elk hunters need not buy, there are three possible justifications for charging nonresident elk hunters an amount at least 7.5 times the fee imposed on resident big-game hunters. The first is conservation. The State did not attempt to assert this as a justification for its discriminatory licensing scheme in the District Court, and apparently does not do so here. Indeed, it is difficult to see how it could consistently with the first prong of a modern privileges and immunities analysis. First, there is nothing in the record to indicate that the influx of nonresident hunters created a special danger to Montana's elk or to any of its other wildlife species....

The second possible justification for the fee differential Montana imposes on nonresident elk hunters - the one presented in the District Court and principally relied upon here - is a cost justification. Appellants have never contended that the Privileges and Immunities Clause requires that identical fees be assessed residents and nonresidents. They recognize that Toomer and Mullaney allow additional charges to be made on nonresidents based on both the added enforcement costs the presence of nonresident hunters imposes on Montana and the State's conservation expenditures supported by resident-borne taxes. Their position throughout this litigation has been that the higher fee extracted from nonresident elk hunters is not a valid effort by Montana to recoup state expenditures on their behalf, but a price gouged from those who can satisfactorily pursue their avocation in no other State in the Union. The licensing scheme, appellants contend, is simply an attempt by Montana to shift the costs of its conservation efforts, however commendable they may be, onto the shoulders of nonresidents who are powerless to help themselves at the ballot box.... Montana's attempt to cost-justify its discriminatory licensing practices thus fails under the second prong of a correct privileges and immunities analysis - that which requires the discrimination a State visits upon nonresidents to bear a substantial relation to the problem or burden they pose....

Exploring Constitutional Conflicts