The official NJ governor account posted a tweet saying that PA drivers were banned from NJ.

The tweet was an April Fools joke, but that made me wonder, could NJ really pass a law banning PA drivers? I know that seems ridiculous, but I don’t think state of origin is a protected class, so I can’t come up with a reason why they couldn’t.

  • Is this due to the COVID-19 pandemic? – gerrit Apr 19 at 19:36
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    SegNerd, given that some points of my answer have been near unanimously criticized and I am not sure about how to properly redact it, please unaccept my answer so I can remove it. – SJuan76 Apr 19 at 19:42
  • The tags indicate that this is specific to NJ-PA, but why be so specific? – Strawberry Apr 20 at 13:09

Constitution of the USA, Article IV, Section 1:

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.

and the Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, clause 3):

[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

SCOTUS has found the former to mean that states that do not allow same-sex marriages in their laws must recognize same-sex marriages registered by other states - Obergefell v. Hodges.

Maybe one could argue that driver licenses are not equivalent among states, but I would expect judges (SCOTUS) to require a very well reasoned explanation. For example, maybe Alaska could refuse to recognize licenses from Florida because Florida drivers do not know how to cope with snowed roads. But even in that case Alaska probably would need to produce data showing that these measures aim to serve the public interest (avoid accidents) and that there are no other ways of getting the same result.

OTOH the Commerce Clause has been successfully used to avoid states mandating racial segregation of travellers, so it is quite reasonable to see it being used to prevent a state from trying to limit the mobility of citizens from other states (again, in the supposition that the state restricting it cannot show a compelling reason to do so).

AFAIK, only the Federal Government could invoke the Commerce Clause; I would expect a lot more people (in your example, the PA government or maybe even any PA driver) would have standing.

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    Full Faith and Credit generally doesn't apply to licenses. For a common example, occupational licenses are normally not reciprocally accepted, and you can only sometimes easily convert a license in one state to a license in another. States accept out-of-state drivers licenses for the same reason they'll let foreigners drive on a foreign license -- it'd be really impractical to do anything else. – cpast Apr 18 at 17:57
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    @cpast: I suppose the latter is a result of the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (considering that the US did not agree to the Vienna successor). – MSalters Apr 19 at 6:52
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    Obergefell wasn't decided based on the Full Faith and Credit Clause, though it was one of the arguments made by the plaintiffs. – Brian Apr 19 at 17:36
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    Yeah, states generally aren't required to recognize licenses issued by other states. Another very common example would be firearms licenses, including carry licenses. There are tons of cases of states that don't reciprocate those. – reirab Apr 19 at 18:57
  • I thought it would be motivated by the pandemic: Everyone must stay home, people driving with out-of-state license plates are not home, therefore they are not allowed to be here. – gerrit Apr 19 at 19:38

There is a law that addresses this question: §1502 of chapter 15 exempts from the requirement to obtain a licenses (in PA) in the case of

(3) Any nonresident who is at least 16 years of age and who has in possession a valid driver's license issued in the person's home state or country except that a person who has been issued a valid driver's license in a country other than the United States or Canada shall be exempt only upon showing a satisfactory understanding of official traffic-control devices. A nonresident may only drive the class or classes of vehicles in this Commonwealth for which the person is licensed to drive in the person's home state or country subject to all restrictions contained on the license.

This covers not only other states, it covers other countries. They could repeal that law.

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    That's a PA law. The question was about not about NJ drivers in PA. It was about NJ banning PA-licensed drivers. – grovkin Apr 19 at 2:41
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    @grovkin Does it matter? Isn't the question essentially whether one state can ban another state's drivers? – Barmar Apr 19 at 6:06
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    @Barmar: It matters only in so far as this answer neglected to point out that it's answering a more general case, not the specific one asked about in the question. Still upvoted, the answer could use an edit to point out where this law applies. – Peter Cordes Apr 19 at 6:16
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    Note that the existence of a law allowing X doesn't necessarily mean that X would be illegal in the absence of the law. For example, Hawaii has a law explicitly allowing same-sex marriage, but same-sex marriage is legal even states that do not have such a law, and would remain legal in Hawaii even if Hawaii repealed that law. – ruakh Apr 19 at 7:38
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    @Barmar it certainly does matter. There are two questions implied in the OP. One is about a legal principle. Another is about specific laws which currently exist. This answer clearly tries to present itself as an answer about the existing laws rather than about a legal principle. This quoted law, however, does not apply to the situation in the question. If the answer was framed as being demonstrative of a legal principle, this discussion would not be happening. – grovkin Apr 19 at 19:18

Probably not OK

See the Wikipedia article "Freedom of movement under United States law where it is mentioned that freedom to move from one state to another is a right protected under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the US Constitution (Article IV, Section 2) This clause generally prevents states from treating citizens of other US states less favorably than local residents, although there are a good many exceptions

Crandall (1868)

Specifically, the case of Crandall v. Nevada, 73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 35 (1868) the Court held that freedom of movement between states was a protected right under the Federal constitution. Specifically the Court held that that a state cannot discourage people from leaving a state by taxing them. In the opinion in that case, the Court wrote:

The people of these United States constitute one nation. They have a government in which all of them are deeply interested. This government has necessarily a capital established by law, where its principal operations are conducted. Here sits its legislature, composed of senators and representatives, from the states and from the people of the states. Here resides the President, directing through thousands of agents the execution of the laws over all this vast country. Here is the seat of the supreme judicial power of the nation, to which all its citizens have a right to resort to claim justice at its hands. Here are the great executive departments, administering the offices of the mails, of the public lands, of the collection and distribution of the public revenues, and of our foreign relations. These are all established and conducted under the admitted powers of the federal government. That government has a right to call to this point any or all of its citizens to aid in its service, as members of the Congress, of the courts, of the executive departments, and to fill all its other offices, and this right cannot be made to depend upon the pleasure of a state over whose territory they must pass to reach the point where these services must be rendered.


[T]he citizen also has correlative rights. He has the right to come to the seat of government to assert any claim he may have upon that government or to transact any business he may have with it. To seek its protection, to share its offices, to engage in administering its functions. He has a right to free access to its seaports, through which all the operations of foreign trade and commerce are conducted, to the subtreasuries, the land offices, the revenue offices, and the courts of justice in the several states, and this right is in its nature independent of the will of any state over whose soil he must pass in the exercise of it.

Wheeler (1920)

In the case of United States v. Wheeler, 254 U.S. 281 (1920) the court wrote:

In all the States from the beginning down to the adoption of the Articles of Confederation the citizens thereof possessed the fundamental right, inherent in citizens of all free governments, peacefully to dwell within the limits of their respective States, to move at will from place to place therein, and to have free ingress thereto and egress therefrom, with a consequent authority in the States to forbid and punish violations of this fundamental right.

but in that case the protection of this right was said to be in the hands of state authorities.

Edwards (1941)

Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160 (1941) was a case about a law in California prohibiting bringing any "indigent person" into the state. The Supreme Court wrote:

Appellant is a citizen of the United States and a resident of California. In December, 1939, he left his home in Marysville, California, for Spur, Texas, with the intention of bringing back to Marysville his wife's brother, Frank Duncan, a citizen of the United States and a resident of Texas. ... [Duncan was unemployed after having worked for the WPA.] The two men agreed that appellant should transport Duncan from Texas to Marysville in appellant's automobile. ... When he left Texas, Duncan had about $20. It had all been spent by the time he reached Marysville. He lived with appellant for about ten days until he obtained financial assistance from the Farm Security Administration. ...

In Justice Court a complaint was filed against appellant under § 2615 of the Welfare and Institutions Code of California, which provides:

Every person, firm or corporation or officer or agent thereof that brings or assists in bringing into the State any indigent person who is not a resident of the State, knowing him to be an indigent person, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

... appellant was convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment in the county jail, and sentence was suspended. ...

Article I, 8 of the Constitution delegates to the Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce. And it is settled beyond question that the transportation of persons is "commerce" within the meaning of that provision. . California v. Thompson, 313 U. S. 109, 313 U. S. 113. The issue presented in this case, therefore, is whether the prohibition embodied in § 2615 against the "bringing" or transportation of indigent persons into California is within the police power of that State. We think that it is not, and hold that it is an unconstitutional barrier to interstate commerce. ...

But this does not mean that there are no boundaries to the permissible area of State legislative activity. There are. And none is more certain than the prohibition against attempts on the part of any single State to isolate itself from difficulties common to all of them by restraining the transportation of persons and property across its borders. ... [I]n the words of Mr. Justice Cardozo:

The Constitution was framed under the dominion of a political philosophy less parochial in range. It was framed upon the theory that the peoples of the several States must sink or swim together, and that, in the long run, prosperity and salvation are in union, and not division."

It is difficult to conceive of a statute more squarely in conflict with this theory than the Section challenged here. Its express purpose and inevitable effect is to prohibit the transportation of indigent persons across the California border. The burden upon interstate commerce is intended and immediate; it is the plain and sole function of the statute. ...

It is urged, however, that the concept which underlies § 2615 enjoys a firm basis in English and American history. [Footnote 2] This is the notion that each community should care for its own indigent ... We do, however, suggest that the theory of the Elizabethan poor laws no longer fits the facts. Recent years, and particularly the past decade, have been marked by a growing recognition that, in an industrial society, the task of providing assistance to the needy has ceased to be local in character.


This Court has repeatedly declared that the grant [the commerce clause] established the immunity of interstate commerce from the control of the States respecting all those subjects embraced within the grant which are of such a nature as to demand that, if regulated at all, their regulation must be prescribed by a single authority. Milk Control Board v. Eisenberg Farm Products, 306 U. S. 346, 306 U. S. 351.

We are of the opinion that the transportation of indigent persons from State to State clearly falls within this class of subjects. The scope of Congressional power to deal with this problem we are not now called upon to decide.

Guest (1966)

The right to travel was later reiterates in United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745 (1966). In the opnion in that case, the court wrote:

The constitutional right to travel from one State to another, and necessarily to use the highways and other instrumentalities of interstate commerce in doing so, occupies a position fundamental to the concept of our Federal Union. It is a right that has been firmly established and repeatedly recognized. In Crandall v. Nevada


In Edwards v. California, 314 U. S. 160, invalidating a California law which impeded the free interstate passage of the indigent, the Court based its reaffirmation of the federal right of interstate travel upon the Commerce Clause. This ground of decision was consistent with precedents firmly establishing that the federal commerce power surely encompasses the movement in interstate commerce of persons as well as commodities. See also Gloucester Ferry Co. v. Pennsylvania, 114 U. S. 196; Covington & Cincinnati Bridge Co. v. Kentucky, 154 U. S. 204, 154 U. S. 218-219; Hoke v. United States, 227 U. S. 308, 227 U. S. 320; United States v. Hill, 248 U. S. 420, 248 U. S. 423.


In short,. in addition to the Pennsylvania law cited in another answer, a flat ban on persons from another state driving in any particular state might well violate protected constitutional rights, although a state is not required to honor another state's driving license, even though all states now do so. Much would depend on exactly how such a regulation or law was worded. If it purported to ban all travel from another state, it would probably fail.

This is not to say that a state may not insist on proper driving licenses. It may, and it is not required to accept licenses from other states. Nor is this to claim that all traffic regulations are preempted by the Commerce Clause. As the Court said in the Edwards case quoted above:

It is nevertheless true, that the States are not wholly precluded from exercising their police power in matters of local concern even though they may thereby affect interstate commerce

Temporary restrictions based on health and safety issues, such as pandemic quarantine orders, would probably pass review. But a flat ban such as the one jokingly suggested in the question, without regard for exposure or tiem in a state, probably would not, and as far as I know, no state has attempted such a ban in response to the current pandemic.

  • Isn't this a variant of the standard argument made by those "sovereign citizen" cranks who believe that they don't need to have a drivers license or a license plate, or to pay Federal taxes? IIRC that particular use has been extensively debunked in court. It's not yet clear to me how this argument is narrower. I agree with the last part of course; a good legal argument against a ban would have to start with a well-defined ban. – MSalters Apr 20 at 12:09
  • @MSalters It does sound similar. One difference is that this argument has been accepted by real courts, as I show in the answewr. Another difference, which perhaps I should be clearer on is that this argument does not claim to overturn ordinary traffic rules. A state is compelled to permit people to travel through it, entering and leaving. It may still regulate how they do it. Edwards v. California, may be the closest to an attempt at an actula ban in caselaw that I found, but the answer was already getting long. – David Siegel Apr 20 at 14:23
  • @MSalters I have now added the Edwards case to the answer, and expanded the conclusion in response to your comment. – David Siegel Apr 20 at 16:08
  • Hee hee... it's ironic because IIRC you sometimes call people out for unconsciously being USA-centrist. Here, you appear to be unconsciously driver-centrist. You thoroughly examine whether travel is a right, but seem to presume on the right to operate heavy equipment on a public roadway. You need to draw that link better. It's a real public-policy problem because states with lots of illegal aliens want to issue licenses to them, because licensed drivers are more likely to carry insurance. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Apr 20 at 19:18

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