1 minute read

Hicklin v. Orbeck

Whose Resources Are They?

Alaska had argued that it owned the oil and gas on its territory, so it had a right to ensure that its own citizens benefited from those resources. The Court did not agree. First, it pointed out, the law was written in such a way as to extend to employers who:

. . . have no connection whatsoever with the State's oil and gas, perform no work on state land, have no contractual relationship with the State, and receive no payment from the State . . . The only limit of any consequence on the Act's reach is the requirement that "the activity which generates the employment must take place inside the state."

To refute this way of thinking about state resources, Justice Brennan again quoted from an earlier decision. Citing a 1911 case called West v. Kansas Natural Gas, he portrayed the absurd consequences that might result from each state jealously guarding its resources for the sole benefit of its own citizens:

The Court reasoned that if a State could so prefer its own economic well-being to that of the Nation as a whole, "Pennsylvania might keep its coal, the Northwest its timber, [and] the mining States their minerals," so that "embargo may be retaliated by embargo" with the result that "commerce [would] be halted at state lines."

Finally, although the people suing had not challenged the Alaska law under the Commerce Clause--also from Article IV of the Constitution--the Court held that this clause, too, made the Alaska law invalid:

. . . the Commerce Clause circumscribes a State's ability to prefer its own citizens in the utilization of natural resources found within its borders, but destined for interstate commerce . . . Here, the oil and gas upon which Alaska hinges its discrimination against nonresidents are of profound national importance . . . As Mr. Justice Cardozo observed, the Constitution "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."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Hicklin v. Orbeck - Significance, Work For Residents Only, Many States, One Nation, Whose Resources Are They?