June 27, 2013 Articles

Federal Circuits Remain Split on Full Faith and Credit

The lack of clarity with respect to the doctrine's application continues to demand attention.

By Lara O'Donnell

Federal courts of appeal remain split on key issues concerning the scope and application of the full faith and credit doctrine. Sometimes referred to as the “lawyer’s clause” of the Constitution, see Robert H. Jackson, Full Faith and Credit—The Lawyer’s Clause of the Constitution, 45 Colum. L. Rev. 1 (1945), the full faith and credit clause, at its core, is based on principles of comity and the desire for uniformity in recognition of judgments among sister states. Interpretations of full faith and credit range from extremely limited applications of the doctrine that would do little to affect individual or state rights, to game-changing enforcement that would signal a federal priority of uniformity on particular issues. The Supreme Court has not resolved the circuit split or clarified the doctrine, which informs issues such as adoption, marriage, and other matters of national importance. The disparity among sister circuits on critical issues and lack of clarity with respect to the doctrine’s application continues to demand attention. Signaling that the doctrine may yet have force, the issue recently surfaced in connection with the Supreme Court argument on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). However, it remains to be seen whether and when the Court will next comment on the full faith and credit issue, or seek to clarify any aspect of the doctrine.

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