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What is the Full Faith and Credit Clause?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Full Faith and Credit Clause is a clause in the Constitution of the United States which states that “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.” Put in simple language, this means that judgments rendered in one state are acknowledged in others.

When the Constitution was drafted, Article IV, Section 1 was included to protect the autonomy of the states while also promoting unity in the United States as a whole. The framers wanted to make sure that judicial proceedings in one state would be respected by all states, because otherwise there could be substantial room for abuse. This affirmed the autonomy of the individual states, an important concern for many of the people involved in the drafting of the Constitution, while ensuring that the states would also be unified.

In a very simple example of why the Full Faith and Credit Clause is important, consider the case of a couple divorcing in Arkansas. Without the clause, that divorce would not be recognized outside of the state. If one of the partners moved to Vermont, it would be necessary to file all over again, otherwise that partner would still be considered married. With the clause the State of Vermont recognizes the divorce filed and approved in the State of Arkansas.

This clause in the Constitution also prevents abusive litigation. If someone in Texas sues someone and the court delivers a valid judgment, this person cannot file the same suit in Kansas — the outcome of the suit in Texas is recognized and considered to be the final judgment. Likewise, someone who is ruled against in litigation in Colorado cannot flee to New York and evade punishment, because the ruling in the Colorado court is still valid in New York.

The Full Faith and Credit Clause also plays a role in reciprocity. Professionals such as doctors and lawyers are not required to go to school all over again when they move to new states; they can apply for reciprocity in certification so that they can practice. Likewise, when citizens move to new states, they can renew their driving licenses in the new state without having to go through drivers' education a second time. As long as the standards for licensure are similar between the two states, no additional training or certification will be required for reciprocity.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By SteamLouis — On Sep 23, 2012

@ZipLine-- That's a really good question and a difficult one. But I think this part of the Clause would decide your question: "And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof."

So at the end of the day, Congress will decide whether and how other states recognize each other's laws and decisions. If Congress were to rule that all states have to recognize same-sex marriage (which is complicated in an of itself), I guess they would have to.

But this is not just an issue about the faith and full credit clause. It's also about the definition of marriage, which I think is up to individual states, so it's a really complicated case.

By ZipLine — On Sep 22, 2012

I have a question about this clause. So we have some states now that allow same-sex marriage. Does this clause mean that other states have to recognize these marriages?

Those states don't allow same-sex marriage though, so they wouldn't have to recognize the marriage that took place in another state, right? But then, this would violate the Full Faith and Credit Clause. So confusing!

By donasmrs — On Sep 22, 2012

I think that this clause doesn't seem like such a big deal to us now because we tend to see the states as unified under a single government. But in the early years of the country, the states were very distinct. They had very different laws from one another and saw themselves as separate entities, up until the Civil War especially. I think there were even a couple of states that printed their own money.

So in that time frame, the Full Faith and Credit Clause was extremely important for the unity of the nation. As much as the states have autonomy, they still have to act in union with everyone else in a republic, so we couldn't have everyone doing their own thing. If we allowed that, we wouldn't be a nation.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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