Preference to Ports

Clause 6. No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another.

The “No Preference” Clause

The limitations imposed by this section were designed to prevent preferences as between ports because of their location in different States. They do not forbid such discriminations as between individual ports. Acting under the commerce clause, Congress may do many things that benefit particular ports and which incidentally result to the disadvantage of other ports in the same or neighboring States. It may establish ports of entry, erect and operate lighthouses, improve rivers and harbors, and provide structures for the convenient and economical handling of traffic.1877 A rate order of the Interstate Commerce Commission which allowed an additional charge to be made for ferrying traffic across the Mississippi to cities on the east bank of the river was sustained over the objection that it gave an unconstitutional preference to ports in Texas.1878 Although there were a few early intimations that this clause was applicable to the States as well as to Congress,1879 the Supreme Court declared emphatically in 1886 that state legislation was unaffected by it.1880 After more than a century, the Court confirmed, over the objection that this clause was offended, the power which the First Congress had exercised1881 in sanctioning the continued supervision and regulation of pilots by the States.1882

1877 Louisiana PSC v. Texas & N.O. R.R., 284 U.S. 125, 131 (1931); Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co., 59 U.S. (18 How.) 421, 433 (1856); South Carolina v. Georgia, 93 U.S. 4 (1876). In Williams v. United States, 255 U.S. 336 (1921) the argument that an act of Congress which prohibited interstate transportation of liquor into States whose laws prohibited manufacture or sale of liquor for beverage purposes was repugnant to this clause was rejected.

1878 Louisiana PSC v. Texas & N.O. R.R., 284 U.S. 125, 132 (1931).

1879 Passenger Cases (Smith v. Turner), 48 U.S. (7 How.) 282, 414 (1849) (opinion of Justice Wayne); cf. Cooley v. Board of Wardens, 53 U.S. (12 How.) 299, 314 (1851).

1880 Morgan v. Louisiana, 118 U.S. 455, 467 (1886). See also Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113, 135 (1877); Johnson v. Chicago & Pacific Elevator Co., 119 U.S. 388, 400 (1886).

1881 1 Stat. 53, 54, § 4 (1789).

1882 Thompson v. Darden, 198 U.S. 310 (1905).

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Last modified: June 9, 2014