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Interstate Recognition of Licenses:

A reader asks:

Could you possibly cover the subject of states recognizing other state licenses? I have a driver's license from state A that state B must recognize. I have a marriage license from state A that state B must recognize. I have a carry license from state A that state B refuses to recognize. Why? How can this be changed?

The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution generally requires states to recognize out-of-state court judgments. There is, if I recall correctly, some authority (though not completely clear) that a state must also recognize out-of-state marriages.

But the Constitution otherwise leaves each state with the authority to decide who is licensed to do what within that state. Congress may in many situations preempt such licensing with federal legislation. If the activity is constitutionally protected, a state by definition may not interfere with it through a discretionary licensing scheme -- a state may not, for instance, require a discretionary license to publish newspapers (though it may sometimes require speakers to get licenses that must be issued under content-neutral conditions, for instance parade permits). And in some situations, if the activity is interstate and a licensing requirement will gravely and without adequate justification burden the activity, the state rule may violate the dormant Commerce Clause. But those are exceptions; the rule is that a state decides for itself who is licensed to do things there.

Thus, a state has no constitutional obligation to recognize driver's licenses from other states. I'm not sure whether there's some federal law mandating such recognition, or whether states just do it as a matter of "comity," which is to say out of a desire to work well with other states (and to get reciprocity for their own citizens). But in any event, such recognition was a democratic choice, not a constitutional command. Likewise, states can often do refuse to recognize out-of-state professional licenses, such as licenses to practice law or medicine.

So how can one get one's licensed recognized in another state? Well, if courts conclude that there's a constitutional right not just to own a gun but to carry one on one's person -- which a very few state courts have, some as to a right to carry open and one as to a right to carry concealed -- then the question will become moot: One then wouldn't need a license to carry concealed (or at least would be categorically entitled to such a license upon showing that one is a law-abiding adult and perhaps paying a nominal fee).

But if that doesn't happen, then the answer to "How can this be changed?" is through state-by-state legislation, and possibly also federal legislation (for instance, legislation conditioning various kinds of funding on a state's willingness to recognize out-of-state licenses). Not very likely at the federal level, I realize, but my understanding is that many states have indeed provided for recognition of out-of-state licenses, especially if the other state reciprocally recognizes such licenses.

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