Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Full Faith and Credit Clause
Full faith and credit is mutual understanding between courts of the 50 states of the United States to recognize, honor and enforce each other's actions. The doctrine is rooted in the United States Constitution.
Section one of Article four of the United States Constitution is known as the Full Faith and Credit Clause. It was primarily intended to provide for the continuity between states and enforcement across state lines of non-federal laws, civil claims and court rulings. Without this clause, enforcement of state-to-state extradition, portability of court orders, nationwide recognition of legal status, out-of-state taxation, spousal and child support, and the collection of fees and fines would all be impossible without separate federal action, or a similar action by the other states.
- "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof."
Though courts from the lowest magistrate courts to the highest state courts practice full faith and credit on a daily basis, appeals courts in the various appellate court districts often make conflicting rulings on matters of law, which may stand in conflict until resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court or by legislative action. The Supreme Court of the United States has long recognized a "public policy exception" to the clause. If the legal pronouncements of one state conflict with the public policy of another state, federal courts in the past have been reluctant to force a state to enforce the pronouncements of another state in contravention of its own public policy. The public policy exception has been applied in cases of marriage (such as polygamy, miscegenation or consanguinity), civil judgments and orders, criminal conviction and others.
The full-faith-and-credit clause has been noted for its application involving orders of protection, for which the clause was expounded upon by the Violence Against Women Act, child support, for which the enforcement of the clause was spelled out in the Federal Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act (28 U.S.C. s. 1738B), and its possible application to same-sex marriage, civil union and domestic partnership laws and cases, as well as the controversial Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. The clause has been the chief constitutional basis for the repeated attacks on the DOMA. Regardless of whether DOMA is constitutional, most legal scholars recognize that it is more probably superfluous given the public policy exception. For even if DOMA is deemed unconstitutional, the long precedence of the public policy exception weighs in against the recognition of same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships in states whose public policy prohibits it. As of early 2004, 39 states have passed their own laws nearly all of which specifically reject same-sex marriages recognized in other jurisdictions. Many of these laws have been passed in the last few years. By taking a legal stance on the issue these states have helped inform the Supreme Court what the public policy of the various states are before the Court takes up the issue and it is left to review the constitutionality of those policies.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated in his dissenting opinion to the landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision that he feared application of the full faith and credit clause to the majority’s decision in that case might destroy "the structure . . . that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions." If Scalia's dissenting opinion held true, the majority ruling could potentially negate the DOMA and create a legal loophole allowing same-sex marriages and obliging all other states to recognize them.
Likewise, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case of Goodridge et al. v. Department of Public Health is being eyed by observers on both sides of the issue because of similar concerns stemming from this clause.
Supporters of the DOMA, however, have claimed that the clause could very well be used to defend the law. They say that the clause’s explicit language spelling out the role of Congress is precisely what makes the law Constitutional, without the further need for the Federal Marriage Amendment. They point out that Congress has made several laws, including those on firearms controls and safety standards, employment discrimination, disability, and rights to unionization, and environmental protection, which have all withstood Constitutional attacks on the basis of full faith and credit.
- Transcription of the US Constitution at the National Archives
- Pine Tree Legal Assistance's article on Federal Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Act
- Full Faith and Credit Provision of the Violence Against Women Act by Deleware State
- A guide to Full Faith and Credit concerns in the Mid-Atlantic Region by Delaware State
- PDF of "An Advocate's Guide to Full Faith and Credit for Orders of Protection: Assisting Victims of Domestic Violence" at University of Minnesota
- 365Gay.com article
- Fox News article
- WNBC article
- North Shore Sunday article on TonOnline.com
- Marriagewatch.org's Goodridge page
- Huston Voice article
- GLAD's Marriage page
- Findlaw article
- Mountain Pride Media article
- Slate article
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