The Demise of the
The case of Hughes v. Oklahoma, 441 U.S. 322 (1979,) was the demise of the "State-ownership" argument that had been embodied in Geer v Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519. The court held that:
"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.
"(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. 326-335.
"(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."
Justice Brennan for the Court stated:
"The United States Supreme Court has held on numerous occasions that the wild animals and fish within a state's border are, so far as capable of ownership, owned by the state in its sovereign capacity for the common benefit of all its people. Because of such ownership, and in the exercise of its police power, the state may regulate and control the taking, subsequent use and property rights that may be acquired therein. Lacoste v. Department of Conservation, 263 U.S. 545 . . .; Geer v. State of Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519 . . . . As stated in Lacoste, supra, protection of the wildlife of a state is peculiarly within the police power of the state, and the state has great latitude in determining what means are appropriate for its protection."
..."Geer sustained against a Commerce Clause challenge a statute forbidding the transportation beyond the State of game birds that had been lawfully killed within the State. The decision rested on the holding that no interstate commerce was involved. This conclusion followed in turn from the view that the State had the power, as representative for its citizens, who "owned" in common all wild animals within the State, to control not only the taking of game but also the ownership of game that had been lawfully reduced to possession. By virtue of this power, Connecticut could qualify the ownership of wild game taken within the State by, for example, prohibiting its removal from the State: "The common ownership imports the right to keep the property, if the sovereign so chooses, always within its jurisdiction for every purpose." 161 U.S., at 530. Accordingly, the State's power to qualify ownership raised serious doubts whether the sale or exchange of wild game constituted "commerce" at all; in any event the Court held that the qualification imposed by the challenged statute removed any transactions involving wild game killed in Connecticut from interstate commerce."
..."Foster-Fountain Packing Co. v. Haydel, 278 U.S. 1 (1928), undermined Geer even more directly. A Louisiana statute forbade the transportation beyond the State of shrimp taken in Louisiana waters until the heads and shells had been removed. The statute clearly relied on the Geer state-control-of-ownership rationale. Anyone lawfully taking shrimp from Louisiana waters was granted "a qualified interest which may be sold within the State." Only after the head and shell had been removed within the State did the taker or possessor acquire "title and the right to sell and ship the same `beyond the limit[s] of the State, without restriction or reservation.'" 278 U.S., at 8.
"Ignoring the niceties of "title" to the shrimp and concentrating instead on the purposes and effects of the statute, Foster-Fountain Packing struck down the statute as economic protectionism abhorrent to the Commerce Clause...."
..."Foster-Fountain Packing's implicit shift away from Geer's formalistic "ownership" analysis became explicit in Toomer v. Witsell, 334 U.S. 385, 402 (1948), which struck down as violations of the Commerce Clause and the Privileges and Immunities Clause certain South Carolina laws discriminating against out-of-state commercial fishermen:
"The whole ownership theory, in fact, is now generally regarded as but a fiction expressive in legal shorthand of the importance to its people that a State have power to preserve and regulate the exploitation of an important resource. And there is no necessary conflict between that vital policy consideration and the constitutional command that the State exercise that power, like its other powers, so as not to discriminate without reason against citizens of other States."
"Although stated in reference to the Privileges and Immunities Clause challenge, this reasoning is equally applicable to the Commerce Clause challenge. Douglas v. Seacoast Products, Inc., 431 U.S. 265 (1977), dispelled any doubts on that score. In rejecting the argument that Virginia's "ownership" of fish swimming in its territorial waters empowered the State to forbid fishing by federally licensed ships owned by nonresidents while permitting residents to fish, Seacoast Products explicitly embraced the analysis of the Geer dissenters:
"A State does not stand in the same position as the owner of a private game preserve and it is pure fantasy to talk of `owning' wild fish, birds, or animals. Neither the States nor the Federal Government, any more than a hopeful fisherman or hunter, has title to these creatures until they are reduced to possession by skillful capture. . . . Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519, 539-540 (1896) (Field, J., dissenting). The `ownership' language of cases such as those cited by appellant must be understood as no more than a 19th-century legal fiction expressing `the importance to its people that a State have power to preserve and regulate the exploitation of an important resource.' [Citing Toomer.] Under modern analysis, the question is simply whether the State has exercised its police power in conformity with the federal laws and Constitution." 431 U.S., at 284.
"The case before us is the first in modern times to present facts essentially on all fours with Geer. We now conclude that 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, and therefore expressly overrule Geer. We thus bring our analytical framework into conformity with practical realities. Overruling Geer also eliminates the anomaly, created by the decisions distinguishing Geer, that statutes imposing the most extreme burdens on the interstate commerce (essentially total embargoes) were the most immune from challenge. At the same time, the general rule we adopt in this case makes ample allowance for preserving, in ways not inconsistent with the Commerce Clause, the legitimate state concerns for conservation and protection of wild animals underlying the 19th-century legal fiction of state ownership."