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[Cite as Patsone v. Pennsylvania, 232 U.S. 138,
34 Sup.Ct. 281, 58 L.Ed. 539 (1914). Note: This decision regards a
Pennsylvania game law prohibiting resident aliens from possessing rifles and
shotguns. It was argued that the law violated the 14th amendment's equal
protection clause and a treaty with Italy granting equality to each other's
citizens when in the other's country. The plaintiff argued, "Under the terms of
the present act the mere possession of property, innocent in itself, and having
lawful uses, is made an offence apart from its being used unlawfully and its
forfeiture is fixed as part of the penalty." (P. 140) The Court
distinguished between hunting and self-defense noting, "The prohibition does not
extend to weapons such as pistols that may be supposed to be needed occasionally
for self-defense" (P. 143) and "It is
to be remembered that the subject of this whole discussion is wild game..."
(P. 145) The lower
court had similarly noted that hunting was not an "inherent right" and seemed to
distinguish this a right of self-protection, going so far as to cite U.S. v.
Pressor to illustrate how a use beyond arms possession (armed marching as a
group) goes beyond the inherent right. See headnotes for Commonwealth v. Patsone, 231 Pa. 46, 79 A. 928 (1911).]
PATSONE v. COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA.
ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF
No. 38. Argued November 4, 1913.--Decided January
The act of May 8, 1909, of
Pennsylvania, making it unlawful for unnaturalized foreign born residents
to kill wild game except in defence of person or property and to that end making
the possession of shot guns and rifles unlawful, is not unconstitutional under
the due process and equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth
A State may protect its wild game and preserve it
for its own citizens. Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U.S.
A State may classify with reference to the evil to
The determination of the class from which an evil
is mainly to be feared and specialized in the legislation is a practical one
dependent upon experience; and this court is slow to declare that the state
legislature is wrong in its facts. Adams v. Milwaukee, 228
A State may direct its police regulations against
what it deems the evil as it actually exists without covering the whole field of
possible abuse. Central Lumber Co. v. South Dakota, 227
The provisions in Article II of the
treaty with Italy, giving citizens of Italy the right to carry on trade
on the same terms as natives of this country, and provisions in the treaty with
Switzerland, applicable to citizens of Italy under the favored nation clause in
Article XXIV of the treaty with Italy, relate to trade, and
are not applicable to personal use of firearms; and a state statute protecting
wild game and prohibiting aliens from owning shot guns and rifles is not
incompatible with or violative of such treaty provisions.
Quaere, and not to be decided on this
record, whether the statute in this case can be construed as precluding an alien
from possessing a stock of guns for purposes of trade and whether in that event
it would violate rights under the treaty with Italy of 1871.
Equality of rights assured to citizens of Italy
under the treaty of 1871 is that of protection and security for persons and
property and nothing in that treaty purports or attempts to prevent a State from
exercising its power for preservation of wild game for its own citizens.
231 Pa. St. 46 [, 79 A. 928], affirmed.
The facts, which involve
the constitutionality of the wild game statute of Pennsylvania making it
unlawful for any unnaturalized foreign born resident to kill wild birds or
animals and the validity of such statute as applied to an Italian citizen in
view of the treaty with Italy, are stated in the opinion.
Mr. Marcel Viti for plaintiff in error:
The statute violates the Fourteenth Amendment. It deprives persons of
liberty and property without due process of law. Barbier v.
Connolly, 113 U.S. 27; Mugler v. Kansas, 123
U.S. 623, 661.(p.140)
While the legislature may have authority to declare unlawful property
which is innocent in itself, yet such power must not be exercised in such a way
as to infringe fundamental rights to a greater extent than is absolutely
necessary for the accomplishment of the legal purpose in view. Neither Lawton v. Steele, 152 U.S. 133, nor Geer v.
Connecticut, control this case.
The cases of People v. West, 106 N. Y. 293,
297; Osborn v. Charlevoix, 114 Michigan, 655;
Luck v. Sears, 29 Oregon, 421; State v. Lewis, 134 Indiana, 250; McConnell v. McKillip, 71 Nebraska, 712, can all be
A State may forbid absolutely the possession of game within its
borders because the individual only acquires therein a qualified right of
property; it may also forbid the possession of articles which are not adapted to
any but an unlawful use and may confiscate articles actually put to an illegal
use or found under circumstances, from which it must necessarily be inferred
that such articles had been or were about to be used for an illegal purpose.
Under the terms of the present act the mere possession of property,
innocent in itself, and having lawful uses, is made an offence apart from its
being used unlawfully and its forfeiture is fixed as part of the penalty.
The legislature cannot provide that implements which are susceptible
of beneficial use and which have not been perverted to an unlawful use, be
summarily abated or declared forfeited after a hearing, as part of a penalty for
the offence of having them in possession.
Shot guns and rifles are articles of property not harmful in
themselves, necessary for legitimate uses, and there is no manifest necessity to
forbid their possession in order to prevent aliens from hunting game.
The State has not the right to confiscate such property under such
circumstances and without a hearing at which he can offer a defence.(p.141)
The possession of property harmless in itself and which is necessary
for lawful purposes cannot be prohibited and the property itself confiscated
merely because it is also capable of being put to an illegal use.
The equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment are
violated by the act. It forbids the possession of shot guns and rifles by
resident aliens alone, thus depriving them of efficient and essential
instruments for protection of person and property. It provides for the
confiscation of valuable, innocent property when owned by aliens,
notwithstanding that it has never been put to any illegal use. It singles out a
class for discriminating and hostile legislation. Duncan v.
Missouri, 152 U.S. 377, 382; Missouri v. Lewis,
101 U. S. 22, 31.
There is a further discrimination against resident aliens as
distinguished from non-resident aliens, as the latter are apparently allowed to
possess shot guns and rifles, and use them within the State for the purpose of
hunting game for periods of ten days, subject only to the general game laws of
the State. Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 530, 537;
State v. Montgomery, 94 Maine, 192; Templar v. Barbers' Board, 131 Michigan, 254.
These inequalities cannot be justified on the ground of proper
classification; see Railway v. Ellis, 165 U.S. 150, 155;
Yick Wo. v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 369.
The statute contravenes the existing treaty between the United
States and Italy of 1871; see Arts. II, III, 17 Stat. 845;
and under the favored nation clause, Art. XXIV of that treaty, this statute also
violates the provisions of the treaty with Switzerland of 1855, 9
Stat. 597, putting citizens on a footing of reciprocal equality. By this
statute an Italian farmer in Pennsylvania cannot protect his property from birds
and dogs even though wild and subject to be killed by citizens. See In re Marshall, 102 Fed. Rep. 325.
The wording of the treaty is plain and shows that the (p.142)contracting parties intended that their
subjects should at least enjoy in the territory of each other the same liberty
of carrying on trade and protection and security of their persons and property
as natives under like conditions. Maiorano v. Balt. & Ohio
R. R. Co., 213 U. S. 268; Crowley v.
Christianson, 137 U.S. 91.
The terms of the act are not limited to any class or nationality
whatsoever. An alien merchant or manufacturer who may have spent most of his
life in Pennsylvania, adding to its wealth as well as his own, not only may not
shoot game, upon his own land, which has been held a right of property in State v. Mallory, 73 Arkansas, 236, but he is not allowed
the possession of a shot gun or rifle upon such property for the protection
thereof or for use in hunting game in other States where he might lawfully shoot
under regulations applying to non-resident aliens.
No State may prohibit the possession of any lawful article of trade
and commerce to Italian subjects and at the same time allow its possession by
natives without violating the quoted treaty provisions.
In addition to violating the Italian treaty the act violates the
treaty with Switzerland by imposing upon Italian subjects more burdensome
conditions and other conditions in respect to the possession of property and the
exercise of commerce than are imposed upon natives.
Treaties are the supreme law of the land and all state authority is
subordinate thereto, especially when the treaty, as in this case, is
self-executing, Hauenstein v. Lynham, 100 U.S. 484,
and relates to a proper subject of treaty negotiation. Jacobson
v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 24. See also Matter
of Heff, 197 U.S. 405, 488.
Mr. John C. Bell, Attorney General of the
State of Pennsylvania, and Mr. William M. Hargest, with whom Mr. W.H.
Lemon was on the brief, for defendant in error.(p.143)
Mr. Justice Holmes
delivered the opinion of the court.
The plaintiff in error was an unnaturalized
foreign born resident of Pennsylvania and was complained of for owning or having
in his possession a shot gun, contrary to an act of May 8, 1909.
Laws, 1909, No. 261, p. 466. This statute makes it unlawful for any
unnaturalized foreign born resident to kill any wild bird or animal except in
defence of person or property, and 'to that end' makes it unlawful for such
foreign born person to own or be possessed of a shot gun or rifle; with a
penalty of twenty-five dollars and a forfeiture of the gun or guns. The
plaintiff in error was found guilty and was sentenced to pay the above mentioned
fine. The judgment was affirmed on successive appeals. 231 Pa. St. 46 [, 79 A.
928]. He brings the case to this
court on the ground that the statute is contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment and
also is in contravention of the treaty between the United States and Italy, to
which latter country the plaintiff in error belongs.
Under the Fourteenth Amendment the objection is two-fold;
unjustifiably depriving the alien of property and discrimination against such
aliens as a class. But the former really depends upon the latter, since it
hardly can be disputed that if the lawful object, the protection of wild life
(Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519), warrants the
discrimination, the means adopted for making it effective also might be adopted.
The possession of rifles and shot guns is not necessary for other purposes not
within the statute. It is so peculiarly appropriated to the forbidden use that
if such a use may be denied to this class, the possession of the instruments
desired chiefly for that end also may be. The prohibition does not extend to
weapons such as pistols that may be supposed to be needed occasionally for
self-defence. So far, the case is within the principle of Lawton v. Steele, 152 U.S. 133. (p.144)See further Silz v. Hesterberg, 211
U.S. 31. Purity Extract Co. v. Lynch, 226 U.S.
The discrimination undoubtedly presents a more difficult question.
But we start with the general consideration that a State may classify with
reference to the evil to be prevented, and that if the class discriminated
against is or reasonably might be considered to define those from whom the evil
mainly is to be feared, it properly may be picked out. A lack of abstract
symmetry does not matter. The question is a practical one dependent upon
experience. The demand for symmetry ignores the specific difference that
experience is supposed to have shown to mark the class. It is not enough to
invalidate the law that others may do the same thing and go unpunished, if, as a
matter of fact, it is found that the danger is characteristic of the class
named. Lindsley v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co., 220 U.S. 61,
80, 81. The State 'may direct its law against what it deems the evil as
it actually exists without covering the whole field of possible abuses.' Central Lumber Co. v. South Dakota, 226 U.S. 157, 160.
Rosenthal v. New York, 226 U.S. 260, 270. L'Hote v. New Orleans, 177 U.S. 587. See further Louisville & Nashville R. R. Co. v. Melton, 218 U.S.
36. The question therefore narrows itself to whether this court can say
that the Legislature of Pennsylvania was not warranted in assuming as its
premise for the law that resident unnaturalized aliens were the peculiar source
of the evil that it desired to prevent. Barrett v. Indiana,
229 U.S. 26, 29.
Obviously the question so stated is one of local experience on which
this court ought to be very slow to declare that the state legislature was wrong
in its facts. Adams v. Milwaukee, 228 U.S. 572, 583.
If we might trust popular speech in some States it was right--but it is enough
that this court has no such knowledge of local conditions as to be able to say
that it was manifestly (p.145)wrong. See Trageser v. Gray, 73 Maryland, 250. Commonwealth v. Hana, 195 Massachusetts, 262.
The defence under the treaty with Italy of February
26, 1871, 17 Stat. 845, appears to us to present less difficulty. The
provisions relied upon are those in Article 2, giving to citizens of Italy the
right to carry on trade and to do anything incident to it upon the same terms as
the natives of this country; in Article 3, assuring them security for persons
and property and that they "shall enjoy in this respect the same rights and
privileges as are or shall be granted to the natives, on their submitting
themselves to the conditions imposed upon the natives" and in Article 24
promising to the Kingdom of Italy the same favors in respect to commerce and
navigation that may be granted to other nations. We will say a word about
The last article is supposed to make applicable a convention with Switzerland (proclaimed November 9, 1855, 11 Stat.
597) providing against more burdensome conditions being imposed upon the
residence of Swiss than upon that of citizens. But Article 24 refers only to
commerce and navigation and the case must stand wholly upon Articles 2 and 3. As
to Article 2 it will be time enough to consider whether the statute can be
construed or upheld as precluding Italians from possessing a stock of guns for
purposes of trade when such a case is presented. The act was passed for an
object with which possession in the way of trade has nothing to do and well
might be interpreted as not extending to it. There remains then only Article 3.
With regard to that it was pointed out below that the equality of rights that it
assures is equality only in respect of protection and security for persons and
property. The prohibition of a particular kind of destruction and of acquiring
property in instruments intended for that purpose establishes no inequality in
either respect. It is to be remembered that the subject of this whole discussion
is wild game, which the State may preserve for (p.146)its own citizens if it pleases. Geer v.
Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519, 529. We see nothing in the treaty that
purports or attempts to cut off the exercise of their powers over the matter by
the States to the full extent. Compagnie Francaise de
Navigation a Vapeur v. State Board of Health, 186 U.S. 380, 394,
The Chief Justice