JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.
In Georgia, a parent who willfully and voluntarily abandons his or her dependent child is guilty of a misdemeanor. Those parents who commit that offense within Georgia and thereafter leave the State are guilty of a felony. The question presented by this appeal is whether this statutory classification violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Court of Appeals held that the statute should be subjected to strict scrutiny because it infringed the fundamental right to travel.
The Court of Appeals' conclusion that § 74-9902 is constitutionally invalid rests entirely on the premise that the statute impairs the fundamental right of every Georgia resident to travel from Georgia to another State.
Despite the fundamental nature of this right, there nonetheless are situations in which a State may prevent a citizen from leaving. Most obvious is the case in which a person has been convicted of a crime within a State. He may be detained within that State, and returned to it if he is found in another State. Indeed, even before trial or conviction, probable cause may justify an arrest and subsequent temporary detention. Similarly, a person who commits a crime in a State and leaves the State before arrest or conviction may be extradited following "a summary and mandatory executive proceeding."
This case differs in a significant respect from prior cases involving the validity of state enactments that were said to penalize the exercise of the constitutional right to travel. In the first decision squarely to recognize the right to travel, Crandall v. Nevada, 6 Wall. 35, the Court held that a State may not impose a tax on residents who desire to leave the State, nor on nonresidents merely passing through. In Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160, the Court held that a State may not make it a crime to bring a nonresident indigent person into the State. In more recent decisions, the Court has examined state statutes imposing durational residence requirements that deprived new residents of rights or benefits available to old residents, to determine whether such requirements penalized citizens for exercising their constitutional
The Georgia Supreme Court has held that § 74-9902's enhancement provision serves the "legislative purpose of causing parents to support their children since the General Assembly could have concluded that the parental support obligation is more difficult to enforce if the parent charged with child abandonment leaves the state." Garren v. State, 245 Ga., at 325, 264 S. E. 2d, at 878. There can be no question about the legitimacy of the purpose to cause parents to support their children.
Having rejected the claim that the Georgia statute impermissibly infringes on the constitutionally protected right to travel, we find no support for the conclusion that the statute violates the Equal Protection Clause. That Clause "announces a fundamental principle: the State must govern impartially. General rules that apply evenhandedly to all persons within the jurisdiction unquestionably comply with this principle." New York City Transit Authority v. Beazer, 440 U.S. 568, 587.
The Equal Protection Clause provides a basis for challenging legislative classifications that treat one group of persons
The characterization by the Court of Appeals and appellee of the Georgia statute as "overbroad" does not affect our conclusion. Appellee contends, and the Court of Appeals found, that Georgia has available less restrictive means to serve the legitimate purposes furthered by the felony provision
Similarly, we need neither agree nor disagree with appellee's argument that the statute is unnecessarily severe because it does not require that the act of leaving the State— as well as the act of abandonment—be motivated by a wrongful intent.
Because we conclude that § 74-9902 did not penalize the exercise of the constitutional right to travel and did not deny appellee the equal protection of the laws, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.
JUSTICE WHITE, concurring.
In Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969), the Court held that restricting welfare benefits to those who had resided in a State for at least one year penalized the exercise of the constitutional right to travel from State to State and that because it did so, the discrimination against newly arrived residents had to be justified by a compelling state interest to avoid violating the Equal Protection Clause. Such an interest was not found. It seemed to me at the time, and it seems to me now, that the same result would have obtained in that case without implicating the Equal Protection Clause at all, given the Court's view of the relationship between the restriction on travel and the State's justifying interests. As
As I understand it, this is essentially the approach followed by the Court today: it first finds that whatever restriction on interstate travel is imposed by the challenged Georgia provision, the State's interest in enforcing its child support laws is sufficient to justify the restriction. The opinion then finds that the equal protection claim is without substance because there is at least a rational basis for the State's classification.
I join the Court's opinion and judgment.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concurring in the judgment.
No one disputes that the State of Georgia can designate the crime of willful child abandonment a felony. It instead has chosen to make the crime a misdemeanor if confined within state boundaries, but a felony once abandonment is accompanied by departure from the State. Thus, in effect, the State requires an abandoning and nonsupporting parent to remain in Georgia if he or she wishes to avoid more serious criminal penalties. This burden on interstate travel applies even if the parent has no criminal intent when crossing the state line.
Given the Georgia statutory scheme, § 74-9902 (a) clearly penalizes appellee's exercise of his constitutional right to travel. In my view, however, that penalty is justified by the State's special interest in law enforcement in this context. The challenged criminal statute is concerned primarily with
For me, it also is noteworthy that appellee pleaded guilty to the crime of willful abandonment and subsequent departure from the State. The record gives no indication that appellee was anything but aware that his crime would become more serious once he left Georgia. Thus, the Court today need not decide the constitutionality of this statute as applied to a person of ordinary intelligence who had no knowledge, or reason to know, that the protected act of interstate travel would convert him from a misdemeanant into a felon. Cf. Lambert v. California, 355 U.S. 225 (1957).
I concur in the judgment.
"No State shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
"If any father or mother shall wilfully and voluntarily abandon his or her child, either legitimate or illegitimate, leaving it in a dependent condition, he or she, as the case may be, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor: Provided, however, if any father or mother shall wilfully and voluntarily abandon his or her child, either legitimate or illegitimate, leaving it in a dependent condition, and shall leave this State, or if any father or mother shall wilfully and voluntarily abandon his or her child, either legitimate or illegitimate, leaving it in a dependent condition, after leaving this State, he or she, as the case may be, shall be guilty of a felony. . . ."
"We therefore find no sufficiently compelling state interest here which permits distinguishing between nonsupporting parents within or without the State of Georgia. There is no question that the statute violates equal protection. Further, even where a governmental purpose is legitimate, as here, the `purpose cannot be pursued by means that broadly stifle fundamental personal liberties when the end can be more narrowly achieved.'" Id., at 213 (footnote omitted).
"Georgia argues that the compelling state interests here are (1) the greater ease in extraditing persons accused of felonies than those accused of misdemeanors and (2) the protection of the State's fiscal integrity by the resulting enforcement of required parental child support. These arguments are unpersuasive since Georgia has in place, through its adoption of the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (URESA), Ga. Code Ann. § 99-9A, et seq., an alternative means of enforcing child support obligations. Fiscal integrity of the State, support of minor children, and extradition of the nonpaying parent are all protected by this Act." 621 F. 2d, at 212-213 (footnotes omitted).
"The failure of the statute to require criminal intent as an element necessary for conviction is further indication of its overbreadth. Under the provision a person leaving the State fully intending to support his or her children, but unable to do so, commits a felony. A series of noncriminal acts can thus become a crime under the statute, subjecting the nonresident to extradition and felony conviction." 621 F. 2d, at 213 (footnote omitted).
Although the Court of Appeals' understanding of the statute was correct insofar as its comments concerned the mental state of the parent at the time of his or her departure from the State, the court appears to have overlooked the statutory requirement that the offending parent have "wilfully and voluntarily" abandoned his or her child. See n. 2, supra. As appellant points out, under Georgia law both desertion—i. e., the willful forsaking and desertion of the duties of parenthood—and dependency— i. e., leaving the child without necessaries—are elements of the offense of child abandonment under § 74-9902. See Waites v. State, 138 Ga.App. 513, 514, 226 S.E.2d 621, 622 (1976). Because the State must establish that the desertion was willful, the Court of Appeals erred in suggesting that "[a] series of noncriminal acts can thus become a crime under the statute."
"The right to move freely from State to State is an incident of national citizenship protected by the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment against state interference. Mr. Justice Moody in Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78, 97, stated, `Privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States . . . are only such as arise out of the nature and essential character of the National Government, or are specifically granted or secured to all citizens or persons by the Constitution of the United States.' And he went on to state that one of those rights of national citizenship was `the right to pass freely from State to State.' Id., at 97." Id., at 178 (Douglas, J., concurring) (emphasis and ellipsis in original).
Justice Jackson was of essentially the same view. See id., at 182-184 (concurring opinion).
It also should be noted that earlier decisions, beginning with Corfield v. Coryell, 6 F. Cas. 546 (No. 3,230) (CCED Pa. 1825) (Washington, J., Circuit Justice), suggested that the right to travel was a privilege and immunity of national citizenship protected by the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Art. IV. See United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745, 764-767 (opinion of Harlan, J.). In fact, appellee relied upon Art. IV in both his state and federal habeas corpus petitions. See n. 5, supra; supra, at 415.
"Undoubtedly the right of locomotion, the right to remove from one place to another according to inclination, is an attribute of personal liberty, and the right, ordinarily, of free transit from or through the territory of any State is a right secured by the Fourteenth Amendment and by other provisions of the Constitution." Williams v. Fears, 179 U.S. 270, 274.
In his dissenting opinion in Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618, 671, Justice Harlan concluded that "the right to travel interstate is a `fundamental' right which, for present purposes, should be regarded as having its source in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment." See also United States v. Guest, 383 U. S., at 757-759; id., at 769-770 (opinion of Harlan, J.).
"The right of the citizen to migrate from state to state which, I agree with Mr. Justice Douglas, is shown by our precedents to be one of national citizenship, is not, however, an unlimited one. In addition to being subject to all constitutional limitations imposed by the federal government, such citizen is subject to some control by state governments. He may not, if a fugitive from justice, claim freedom to migrate unmolested, nor may he endanger others by carrying contagion about. These causes, and perhaps other that do not occur to me now, warrant any public authority in stopping a man where it finds him and arresting his progress across a state line quite as much as from place to place within the state." 314 U. S., at 184.
"Durational residence laws penalize those persons who have traveled from one place to another to establish a new residence during the qualifying period. Such laws divide residents into two classes, old residents and new residents, and discriminate against the latter . . . ."
We have invalidated durational residence requirements that operated to deprive new residents of the right to vote, Dunn, supra, and of welfare and medical care benefits. See Shapiro v. Thompson, supra; Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U.S. 250. However, even though durational residence requirements necessarily impinge to some extent on the right to travel, they are not automatically invalid. Memorial Hospital, supra, at 256. See, e. g., Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393; cf. Vlandis v. Kline, 412 U.S. 441, 452-453.
"There is an entirely obvious difference, on the one hand, between an attempt by a `receiving state' to preclude or discourage inward migration from `sending states' of persons deemed by the `receiving state' to be `undesirables,' `non-contributors' or `economically burdensome persons,' and efforts, as in the present case, by a `sending state' to bring persons accused of crimes back from `receiving states' to face criminal trial and punishment in the `sending state.' Persons, including indigents and other migrants, have a right of free travel. . . . On the other hand, persons charged with the commission of crimes shall be delivered up to the state having jurisdiction of the crime. . . . A person charged in Georgia with commission of a crime who has left Georgia and entered another state cannot be said to have a constitutionally protected right of free travel in interstate commerce that can be asserted to bar prosecution for the Georgia offense." Garren v. State, 245 Ga. 323, 324-325, 264 S.E.2d 876, 877-878 (1980) (citations omitted).
The California Supreme Court recognized the same distinction in an opinion upholding a statute that tolled the statute of limitations for criminal offenses during the time the defendant was outside the State: "[T]here is clearly a distinction between one who, like defendant, leaves the state after committing a crime, resulting in the tolling of the statute of limitations during his absence, and one who has committed no crime but is deprived of a government benefit merely because he exercises his right to travel to another state. In the former circumstance, the state has an interest in assuring that the defendant is available locally not only to enhance the possibility of detection but also to avoid the burdens of extradition proceedings, should he be charged, his whereabouts become known, and he refuses to return voluntarily." Scherling v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County, 22 Cal.3d 493, 501, 585 P.2d 219, 223-224 (1978).
"This abolishes all class legislation in the States and does away with the injustice of subjecting one caste of persons to a code not applicable to another.
It establishes equality before the law, and it gives to the humblest, the poorest, the most despised of the race the same rights and the same protection before the law as it gives to the most powerful, the most wealthy, or the most haughty. That, sir, is republican government, as I understand it, and the only one which can claim the praise of a just Government." Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 2766 (1866).
Most frequently, claims of denial of equal protection of the laws are asserted by the members of a class of persons easily defined by a characteristic such as race, sex, alienage, illegitimacy, or religion.
"[E]ven though the government purpose be legitimate and substantial, that purpose cannot be pursued by means that broadly stifle fundamental personal liberties when the end can be more narrowly achieved. The breadth of legislative abridgment must be viewed in the light of less drastic means for achieving the same basic purpose." Id., at 488 (footnotes omitted).