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Baldwin v. Fish & Game Comm'n

Citation: 8 ELR 20425
No. No. 76-1150, 436 U.S. 371/(U.S., 05/23/1978) Aff'd

Affirming the decision of a three-judge district court, 7 ELR 20046, the Supreme Court upholds by a six-to-three vote the power of a state to adopt a system of disparate fees for hunting licenses which results in a nonresident paying 7.5 times the cost imposed upon a resident for similar privileges. The Court rejects plaintiffs' arguments that Montana's statutory scheme violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. While recognizing that the contours of the former have not been precisely defined, the majority concludes that the right of a nonresident to hunt elk is not a right fundamental to the integrity of the federal system. The right of a state to conserve its wildlife resources, while not absolute, is sufficient to justify the regulatory scheme at issue. Furthermore, the disparate fee system is reasonably related to Montana's valid state interest in preserving a finite resource and thus does not result in invidious discrimination violative of the Equal Protection Clause.

A concurrence emphasizes that the disparate fee system is justified only by Montana's interest in preserving its elk and not by a policy of granting residents preferred access to recreational activities offered for sale by private parties. The dissenting opinion rejects the argument that the focus under the Privileges and Immunities Clause should be upon whether a right is fundamental and instead suggests that the test should be whether there is a reasonable relationship between the danger represented by noncitizens and the discrimination practiced upon them. Disparate treatement is permissible only when the nonresident is the cause of the problem which the state seeks to remedy and when such discrimination bears a substantial relationship to solving the problem.

Counsel for Plaintiffs-Petitioners
Paul A. Lenzini
Chapman, Duff & Paul
1730 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20006
(202) 624-8800

Counsel for Defendant-Respondent
James H. Goetz
Goetz & Madden
15 S. Tracy St., Suite 8, Bozeman MT 59715
(406) 587-0618