Article IV, Section 1 ensures that states respect and honor the state laws and court orders of other states, even when their own laws are different. For example, if citizens of New Jersey marry, divorce, or adopt children in New Jersey, Florida must recognize these actions as valid even if the marriage or divorce would not have been possible under Florida law. Similarly, if a court in one state orders a person to pay money or to stop a certain behavior, the courts in other states must recognize and enforce that state’s order.
Article IV, Section 1 also gives Congress the power to determine how states recognize records and laws from other states and how they enforce each others’ court orders. For example, Congress may pass a federal law that specifies how states must handle child custody disputes when state laws are different or that sets out the process by which a person winning a lawsuit in one state can enforce the order in another state.
Article IV, Section 2 – What It Means
Article IV, Section 2 guarantees that states cannot discriminate against citizens of other states. States must give people from other states the same fundamental rights it gives its own citizens. For example, Arizona cannot prohibit New Mexico residents from traveling, owning property, or working in Arizona, nor can the state impose substantially different taxes on residents and nonresidents. But certain distinctions between residents and nonresidents—such as giving state residents a right to buy a hunting license at a lower cost— are permitted.
Article IV, Section 2 also establishes rules for when an alleged criminal flees to another state. It provides that the second state is obligated to return the fugitive to the state where the crime was committed. The process used to return fugitives (extradition) was first created by Congress and originally enforced by the governors of each state. Today courts enforce the return of accused prisoners. Fugitives do not need to have been charged with the crime in the first state in order to be captured in the second and sent back. Once returned, the state can charge the accused with any crime for which there is evidence.
In contrast, when a foreign country returns a fugitive to a state for trial, the state is only allowed to try the fugitive on the charges named in the extradition papers (the formal, written request for the fugitive’s return).
The fugitives from labor provision gave slave owners a nearly absolute right to recapture runaway slaves who fled to another state, even if slavery was outlawed in that state. This also meant that state laws in free states intended to protect runaway slaves were unconstitutional because they interfered with the slave owner’s right to the slave’s return. The adoption of Amendment XIII, which abolishes slavery and prohibits involuntary servitude, nullified this provision.
Article IV, Section 3 – What It Means
Congress can admit new states into the Union, but a single state cannot create a new state within its boundaries. For example, the state of New York cannot make New York City a separate state. In addition, two states, or parts of states (i.e. Oregon and Idaho or Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) cannot become states without the consent of the various state legislatures and Congress. Although an original version of the Constitution included a requirement that each new state join the Union on equal footing with the other states, the language was removed before the document was approved. Nevertheless, Congress has always granted new states rights equal to those of existing states.
Not all of the lands that are owned or controlled by the United States are states. Some lands are territories, and Congress has the power to sell off or regulate the territories. This includes allowing U.S. territories to become independent nations, as was done with the Philippines, or regulating the affairs of current U.S. territories like the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico. In addition, this provision gives Congress the power to set rules for lands owned by the United States, such as the national parks and national forests. The last sentence of this clause makes sure that nothing in the Constitution would harm the rights of either the federal government or the states in disputes over property.
Article IV, Section 4 – What It Means
This provision, known as the guarantee clause, is attributed to James Madison. It has not been widely interpreted, but scholars think it ensures that each state be run as a representative democracy, as opposed to a monarchy (run by a king or queen) or a dictatorship (where one individual or group of individuals controls the government). Courts however have been reluctant to specify what exactly a republican form of government means, leaving that decision exclusively to Congress.
The section also gives Congress the power (and obligation) to protect the states from an invasion by a foreign country, or from significant violent uprisings within each state. It authorizes the legislature of each state (or the executive, if the legislature cannot be assembled in time) to request federal help with riots or other violence.