Corfield v. Coryell

6 F. Cas. 546, 1823 U.S. App. LEXIS 239, 4 Wash . C. C. 371



The privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states guaranteed by the Constitution are 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 the Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign. They may 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 than are paid by the other citizens of the state. 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.


The owners' vessel was seized by the state for taking oysters in a river cove by means of dredges. The vessel owners contended that the seizure violated the power granted to congress to regulate commerce, while the state insisted that the seizure was due to the vessel owners’ trespass.


May the right to fish in public waters be regulated?




The court found that the June 9, 1820 act that regulated the taking of oysters in the state did not violate U.S. Const. art. I, § 8 because the state had a right to regulate fisheries in the state unless regulated by congress. The court found that the New Jersey law did not infringe upon the privileges and immunities clause, U.S. Const. art. IV, § 2, because the exclusive right to take oysters in the waters of New Jersey had not been ceded by the state to the United States. The court found that the power to regulate fisheries and to pursue those who transgressed those regulations was exclusively vested in the state and was not surrendered to the United States by the mere grant of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction to the judicial branch of the government. The court found that the trespass action could not have been supported because the vessel owners did not have constructive possession when the vessel was seized and their only remedy was for consequential damages.

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