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Hughes v. Oklahoma

Citation: 9 ELR 20360
No. No. 77-1439, 441 U.S. 322/12 ERC 2106/(U.S., 04/24/1979)

Overruling Geer v. Connecticut, its longstanding decision justifying state regulation of wildlife under the doctrine of state ownership, the Supreme Court strikes down as unconstitutional an Oklahoma law banning the export for sale of minnows obtained in the state after finding that the measure violates the Commerce Clause. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, relying on Geer for the proposition that the state may regulate the taking and subsequent use of wild animals and fish, upheld the state law as a reasonable protection against the depletion of these resources through commercial exploitation. The Supreme Court reverses, concluding that evolution in judicial interpretation of the Commerce Clause shows that Geer was wrongly decided. The Court traces past Commerce Clause challenges to state regulation of exports of wildlife that reveal an erosion of the Geer doctrine and concludes that such challenges to state wildlife regulation must be considered according to the same general rule as state regulation of other natural resources. The Court finds that the Oklahoma statute discriminates on its face against interstate commerce. Although the state's interest in conservation of wild animals is a legitimate local purpose, those outside the state may not be forced to bear the full burden of conservation, where, as here, less discriminatory alternatives are available. The Court emphasizes that states may still conserve wildlife within their borders so long as it is not done in a manner inconsistent with the Commerce Clause.

Justice Rehnquist dissents, disagreeing with the majority's overruling of Geer and arguing that the Oklahoma law should be sustained because the state's special interest in conserving its wildlife resources outweighs the minimal burden which the statute imposes on interstate commerce.

Counsel for Appellant
Robert M. Helton
Helton, Copeland & Southard
713 Lamar St., Wichita Falls TX 76301
(817) 723-0729

Counsel for Appellee
Bill J. Bruce, Ass't Attorney General; Larry Derryberry, Attorney General
112 State Capitol, Oklahoma City OK 73105
(405) 521-3921