Do you have a constitutional right to travel?

We have all heard that there is a right to freedom of speech, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to form associations: Article 10, Federal Constitution. Do you have a right to travel?  Is it guaranteed in the Constitution? Article 9 of the Constitution states that ‘… every citizen has a right to […]

We have all heard that there is a right to freedom of speech, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to form associations: Article 10, Federal Constitution.

Do you have a right to travel?  Is it guaranteed in the Constitution?

Article 9 of the Constitution states that

‘… every citizen has a right to move freely throughout the Federation and to reside in any part thereof.’

So there it is: you can move about freely.

Long before we have gained our independence, in the Supreme Court of Virginia, a case was heard.  And judgment delivered on September 12, 1930. It concerned a citizen and a chief of police in a city called Lynchburg.  DC Smith was the Chief of Police.  He tried to stop Thompson from driving his private car on the city streets.

Under Virginia’s laws, a person who intended to drive a vehicle on Lynchburg’s roads required a permit. One had to apply for one to the chief of police.  The law gave the chief of police a right to refuse to issue the permit. It said:-

‘… And no permit shall be issued …  unless such examination shall disclose that he or she possesses such ability and knowledge as, in the judgment of the chief of police, qualifies such person to receive such permit.’

Before this case Thompson had twice been convicted of speeding.  The chief of police revoked Thompson’s permit, but he could not prove that he had sent it to Thompson; or that Thompson had indeed received it.

The court said,

‘The provision authorizing the chief of police ‘to revoke the permit of any driver who, in his opinion, becomes unfit to drive an automobile on the streets of the city’ is void.’

The reason for this, the court explained was because:

‘… it is a delegation of legislative power to an administrative officer, …

… it authorizes the chief of police to revoke a permit whenever, in his opinion,the holder thereof has done or omitted to do something, the doing or omission of which the chief of police thinks renders the holder unfit to drive an automobile on the streets of the city, without prescribing any uniform rule, applicable to all persons alike, as to what constitutes unfitness to drive an automobile on the streets of the city, or laying down any rule for the guidance and control of the chief of police in determining what constitutes unfitness to drive an automobile on the streets of the city.’

Epes J  elevated the right to travel to the same level as the right to life and liberty. He held that,

“The right of a citizen to travel upon the public highways and to transport his property thereon in the ordinary course of life and business is a common right which he has under his right to enjoy life and liberty, to acquire and possess property, and to pursue happiness and safety.

It includes the right in so doing to use the ordinary and usual conveyances of the day; and under the existing modes of travel … for the usual and ordinary purposes of life and business.

It is not a mere privilege, like the privilege of moving a house in the street, operating a business stand in the street, or transporting persons or property for hire along the street, which a city may permit or prohibit at will.

The exercise of such a common right the city may, under its police power, regulate in the interest of the public safety and welfare; but it may not arbitrarily or unreasonably prohibit or restrict it, nor may it permit one to exercise it and refuse to permit another of like qualifications,under like conditions and circumstances, to exercise it…’

So there you have it.  You have a right to move about freely and to drive wherever you like.

But those rights can be controlled by the authorities, so long as the laws are equitable, and are uniformly applied.

 

 

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