Perez v. Campbell, 402 U.S. 637 (1971)

Author: Justice White

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Perez v. Campbell, 402 U.S. 637 (1971)

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises an important issue concerning the construction of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution -- whether Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1163(b) (1956) which is part of Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act, is invalid under that clause as being in conflict with the mandate of § 17 of the Bankruptcy Act, 11 U.S. c. § 35 providing that receipt of a discharge in bankruptcy fully discharges all but certain specified judgments. The courts below, concluding that this case was controlled by Kesler v. Department of Public Safety, 369 U.S. 153 (1962), and Reitz v. Mealey, 314 U.S. 33 (1941), two earlier opinions of this Court dealing with alleged conflicts between the Bankruptcy Act and state financial responsibility laws, ruled against the claim of conflict and upheld the Arizona statute.

On July 8, 1965 petitioner Adolfo Perez, driving a car registered in his name, was involved in an automobile accident in Tucson, Arizona. The Perez automobile was not covered by liability insurance at the time of the collision. The driver of the second car was the minor daughter of Leonard Pinkerton, and in September, 1966, the Pinkertons sued Mr. and Mrs. Perez in state court for personal injuries and property damage sustained in the accident. On October 31, 1967, the petitioners confessed judgment in this suit, and a judgment order was entered against them on November 8, 1967 for $2,425.98 plus court costs.

Mr. and Mrs. Perez each filed a voluntary petition in bankruptcy in Federal District Court on November 6, 1967. Each of them duly scheduled the judgment debt to the Pinkertons. The District Court entered orders on July 8, 1968, discharging both Mr. and Mrs. Perez from all debts and claims provable against their estates, including the Pinkerton judgment. 11 U.S.C. § 35; Lewis v. Roberts, 267 U.S. 467 (1925).

During the pendency of the bankruptcy proceedings, the provisions of the Arizona Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act came into play. Although only one provision of the Arizona Act is relevant to the issue presented by this case, it is appropriate to describe the statutory scheme in some detail. The Arizona statute is based on the Uniform Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act promulgated by the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety.{1} Articles 1 and 2 of the Act deal, respectively, with definitional matters and administration.

The substantive provisions begin in Art. 3, which requires the posting of financial security by those involved in accidents. Section 28-1141 of that article requires suspension of licenses for unlawful failure to report accidents, and § 28-1142 (Supp. 1970-1971) provides that, within 60 days of the receipt of an accident report, the Superintendent of the Motor Vehicle Division of the Highway Department shall suspend the driver’s license of the operator and the registration of the owner of a car involved in an accident

unless such operator or owner or both shall deposit security in a sum which is sufficient in the judgment of the superintendent to satisfy any judgment or judgments for damages resulting from the accident as may be recovered against the operator or owner.

Under the same section, notice of such suspension and the amount of security required must be sent to the owner and operator not less than 10 days prior to the effective date of the suspension. This section does not apply if the owner or the operator carried liability insurance or some other covering bond at the time of the accident, or if such individual had previously qualified as a self-insurer under § 28-1222. Other exceptions to the requirement that security be posted are stated in § 28-1143.{2} If none of these exceptions applies, the suspension continues until: (1) the person whose privileges were suspended deposits the security required under § 28-1142 (Supp. 1970-1971); (2) one year elapses from the date of the accident and the person whose privileges were suspended files proof with the Superintendent that no one has initiated an action for damages arising from the accident; (3) evidence is filed with the superintendent that a release from liability, an adjudication of nonliability, a confession of judgment, or some other written settlement agreement has been entered.{3} As far as the record in the instant case shows, the provisions of Art. 3 were not invoked against petitioners, and the constitutional validity of these provisions is, of course, not before us for decision.

Article 4 of the Arizona Act, which includes the only provision at issue here, deals with suspension of licenses and registrations for nonpayment of judgments. Interestingly, it is only when the judgment debtor in an automobile accident lawsuit -- usually an owner-operator like Mr. Perez -- fails to respond to a judgment entered against him that he must overcome two hurdles in order to regain his driving privileges. Section 28-1161, the first section of Art. 4, requires the state court clerk or judge, when a judgment{4} has remained unsatisfied for 60 days after entry, to forward a certified copy of the judgment to the superintendent.{5} This was done in the present case, and on March 13, 1968, Mr. and Mrs. Perez were served with notice that their drivers’ licenses and registration were suspended pursuant to § 28-1162(A).{6} Under other provisions of Art. 4, such suspension is to continue until the judgment is paid,{7} and § 28-1163(b) specifically provides that

[a] discharge in bankruptcy following the rendering of any such judgment shall not relieve the judgment debtor from any of the requirements of this article.

In addition to requiring satisfaction of the judgment debt, § 28-1163(A) provides that the license and registration

shall remain suspended and shall not be renewed, nor shall any license or registration be thereafter issued in the name of the person . . . until the person gives proof of financial responsibility

for a future period.{8} Again, the validity of this limited requirement that some drivers post evidence of financial responsibility for the future in order to regain driving privileges is not questioned here. Nor is the broader issue of whether a State may require proof of financial responsibility as a precondition for granting driving privileges to anyone before us for decision. What is at issue here is the power of a State to include as part of this comprehensive enactment designed to secure compensation for automobile accident victims a section providing that a discharge in bankruptcy of the automobile accident tort judgment shall have no effect on the judgment debtor’s obligation to repay the judgment creditor, at least insofar as such repayment may be enforced by the withholding of driving privileges by the State. It was that question, among others, which petitioners raised after suspension of their licenses and registration by filing a complaint in Federal District Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and requesting a three-judge court. They asserted several constitutional violations, and also alleged that § 28-1163(b) was in direct conflict with the Bankruptcy Act, and was thus violative of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.{9} In support of their complaint, Mr. and Mrs. Perez filed affidavits stating that the suspension of their licenses and registration worked both physical and financial hardship upon them and their children. The District Judge granted the petitioners leave to proceed in forma pauperis, but thereafter granted the respondents’ motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, citing Kesler and Reitz.{10} The Court of Appeals affirmed, relying on the same two decisions. 421 F.2d 619 (CA9 1970). We granted certiorari. 400 U.S. 818 (1970).


Deciding whether a state statute is in conflict with a federal statute, and hence invalid under the Supremacy Clause, is essentially a two-step process of first ascertaining the construction of the two statutes and then determining the constitutional question whether they are in conflict. In the present case, both statutes have been authoritatively construed. In Schecter v. Killingsworth, 93 Ariz. 273, 380 P.2d 136 (1963), the Supreme Court of Arizona held that

[t]he Financial Responsibility Act has for its principal purpose the protection of the public using the highways from financial hardship which may result from the use of automobiles by financially irresponsible persons.

93 Ariz. at 280, 380 P.2d at 140. The Arizona court has consistently adhered to this construction of its legislation, see Camacho v. Gardner, 104 Ariz. 555, 558, 456 P.2d 925, 928 (1969); New York Underwriters Ins. Co. v. Superior Court, 104 Ariz. 544, 456 P.2d 914 (1969); Sandoval v. Chenoweth, 102 Ariz. 241, 243, 428 P.2d 98, 100 (1967); Farmer v. Killingsworth, 102 Ariz. 44, 47, 424 P.2d 172, 175 (1967); Hastings v. Thurston, 100 Ariz. 302, 306, 413 P.2d 767, 770 (1966); Jenkins v. Mayflower Ins. Exchange, 93 Ariz. 287, 290, 380 P.2d 145, 147 (1963), and we are bound by its rulings. See, e.g., General Trading Co. v. State Tax Comm’n, 322 U.S. 335, 337 (1944). Although the dissent seems unwilling to accept the Arizona Supreme Court’s construction of the statute as expressive of the Act’s primary purpose,{11} and indeed characterizes that construction as unfortunate, post at 667, a reading of the provisions outlined above leaves the impression that the Arizona Court’s description of the statutory purpose is not only logical, but persuasive. The sole emphasis in the Act is one of providing leverage for the collection of damages from drivers who either admit that they are at fault or are adjudged negligent. The victim of another driver’s carelessness, if he so desires, can exclude the superintendent entirely from the process of "deterring" a repetition of that driver’s negligence.{12} Further, if an accident is litigated and a special verdict that the defendant was negligent and the plaintiff contributorily negligent is entered, the result in Arizona, as in many other State, is that there is no liability for damages arising from the accident. Heimke v. Munoz, 106 Ariz. 26, 470 P.2d 107 (1970); McDowell v. Davis, 104 Ariz. 69, 448 P.2d 869 (1968). Under the Safety Responsibility Act, the apparent result of such a judgment is that no consequences are visited upon either driver -- although both have been found to have driven carelessly. See Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. §§ 28-1143(A)(4), 28-1144(3). Moreover, there are no provisions requiring drivers proved to be careless to stay off the roads for a period of time. Nor are there provisions requiring drivers who have caused accidents to attend some kind of driver improvement course, a technique that is not unfamiliar in sentencing for traffic offenses.

Turning to the federal statute, the construction of the Bankruptcy Act is similarly clear. This Court on numerous occasions has stated that "[o]ne of the primary purposes of the bankruptcy act" is to give debtors "a new opportunity in life and a clear field for future effort, unhampered by the pressure and discouragement of preexisting debt." Local Loan Co. v. Hunt, 292 U.S. 234, 244 (1934). Accord, e.g., Harris v. Zion’s Savings Bank & Trust Co., 317 U.S. 447, 451 (1943); Stellwagen v. Clum, 245 U.S. 605, 617 (1918); Williams v. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co., 236 U.S. 549, 554-555 (1915). There can be no doubt, given Lewis v. Roberts, 267 U.S. 467 (1925), that Congress intended this "new opportunity" to include freedom from most kinds of preexisting tort judgments.


With the construction of both statutes clearly established, we proceed immediately to the constitutional question whether a state statute that protects judgment creditors from "financially irresponsible persons" is in conflict with a federal statute that gives discharged debtors a new start "unhampered by the pressure and discouragement of preexisting debt." As early as Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1 (1824), Chief Justice Marshall stated the governing principle -- that

acts of the State Legislatures . . . [which] interfere with, or are contrary to the laws of Congress, made in pursuance of the constitution,

are invalid under the Supremacy Clause. Id. at 211 (emphasis added). Three decades ago, MR. JUSTICE BLACK, after reviewing the precedents, wrote in a similar vein that, while

[t]his Court, in considering the validity of state laws in the light of treaties or federal laws touching the same subject, ha[d] made use of the following expressions: conflicting; contrary to; occupying the field; repugnance; difference; irreconcilability; inconsistency; violation; curtailment; and interference[,] . . . [i]n the final analysis,

our function is to determine whether a challenged state statute "stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67 (1941). Since Hines, the Court has frequently adhered to this articulation of the meaning of the Supremacy Clause. See, e.g., Nash v. Florida Industrial Comm’n, 389 U.S. 235, 240 (1967); Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Stiffel Co., 376 U.S. 225, 229 (1964); Colorado Anti-Discrimination Comm’n v. Continental Air Lines, Inc., 372 U.S. 714, 722 (1963) (dictum); Free v. Bland, 369 U.S. 663, 666 (1962); Hill v. Florida, 325 U.S. 538, 542-543 (1945); Sola Electric Co. v. Jefferson Electric Co., 317 U.S. 173, 176 (1942). Indeed, in Florida Lime &Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132 (1963), a recent case in which the Court was closely divided, all nine Justices accepted the Hines test. Id. at 141 (opinion of the Court), 165 (dissenting opinion).

Both Kesler{13} and Reitz, however, ignored this controlling principle. The Court in Kesler conceded that Utah’s financial responsibility law left "the bankrupt to some extent burdened by the discharged debt," 369 U.S. at 171, made "it more probable that the debt will be paid despite the discharge," id. at 173, and thereby made "some inroad . . . on the consequences of bankruptcy. . . ." Id. at 171. Utah’s statute, in short, frustrated Congress’ policy of giving discharged debtors a new start. But the Kesler majority was not concerned by this frustration. In upholding the statute, the majority opinion did not look to the effect of the legislation, but simply asserted that the statute was "not an Act for the Relief of Mulcted Creditors," id. at 174, and was "not designed to aid collection of debts, but to enforce a policy against irresponsible driving. . . ." Id. at 169. The majority, that is, looked to the purpose of the state legislation and upheld it because the purpose was not to circumvent the Bankruptcy Act, but to promote highway safety; those in dissent, however, were concerned that, whatever the purpose of the Utah Act, its

plain and inevitable effect . . . [was] to create a powerful weapon for collection of a debt from which [the] bankrupt [had] been released by federal law.

Id. at 183. Such a result, they argued, left "the States free . . . to impair . . . an important and historic policy of this Nation . . . embodied in its bankruptcy laws." Id. at 185.

The opinion of the Court in Reitz was, similarly, concerned not with the fact that New York’s financial responsibility law frustrated the operation of the Bankruptcy Act, but with the purpose of the law, which was divined as the promotion of highway safety. As the Court said:

The penalty which § 94-b imposes for injury due to careless driving is not for the protection of the creditor merely, but to enforce a public policy that irresponsible drivers shall not, with impunity, be allowed to injure their fellows. The scheme of the legislation would be frustrated if the reckless driver were permitted to escape its provisions by the simple expedient of voluntary bankruptcy, and, accordingly, the legislature declared that a discharge in bankruptcy should not interfere with the operation of the statute. Such legislation is not in derogation of the Bankruptcy Act. Rather, it is an enforcement of permissible state policy touching highway safety.

314 U.S. at 37.

The dissenting opinion written by MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS for himself and three others noted that the New York legislation put "the bankrupt . . . at the creditor’s mercy," with the results that,

[i]n practical effect, the bankrupt may be in as bad, or even worse, a position than if the state had made it possible for a creditor to attach his future wages

and that "[b]ankruptcy . . . [was not] the sanctuary for hapless debtors which Congress intended." Id. at 41.

We can no longer adhere to the aberrational doctrine of Kesler and Reitz that state law may frustrate the operation of federal law as long as the state legislature in passing its law had some purpose in mind other than one of frustration. Apart from the fact that it is at odds with the approach taken in nearly all our Supremacy Clause cases, such a doctrine would enable state legislatures to nullify nearly all unwanted federal legislation by simply publishing a legislative committee report articulating some state interest or policy -- other than frustration of the federal objective that would be tangentially furthered by the proposed state law. In view of the consequences, we certainly would not apply the Kesler doctrine in all Supremacy Clause cases. Although it is possible to argue that Kesler and Reitz are somehow confined to cases involving either bankruptcy or highway safety, analysis discloses no reason why the States should have broader power to nullify federal law in these fields than in others. Thus, we conclude that Kesler and Reitz can have no authoritative effect to the extent they are inconsistent with the controlling principle that any state legislation which frustrates the full effectiveness of federal law is rendered invalid by the Supremacy Clause. Section 28-1163(b) thus may not stand.


Even accepting the Supremacy Clause analysis of Kesler and Reitz -- that is, looking to the purpose, rather than the effect, of state laws -- those decisions are not dispositive of this case. Just as Kesler went a step beyond Reitz and broadened the holding of the earlier case, 369 U.S. at 184 (dissenting opinion), so, in the present case, the respondents asked the courts below and this Court to expand the holdings of the two previous cases. The distinction between Kesler and Reitz and this case lies in the State’s expressed legislative purpose.

Kesler and Reitz were aberrational in their treatment of this question as well. The majority opinions in both cases assumed, without citation of state court authority or any indication that such precedent was unavailable, that the purpose of the state financial responsibility laws there under attack was not provision of relief to creditors, but rather deterrence of irresponsible driving. The assumption was, in effect, that all state legislatures which had enacted provisions such as § 28-1163(b) had concluded that an uninsured motorist about to embark in his car would be more careful on the road if he did not have available what the majority in Kesler cavalierly characterized as an "easy refuge in bankruptcy." 369 U.S. at 173.{14} Passing the question of whether the Court gave sufficient attention to binding state interpretations of state legislative purpose, and conceding that it employed proper technique in divining as obvious from their face the aim of the state enactments, the present case raises doubts about whether the Court was correct even in its basic assumptions. The Arizona Supreme Court has declared that Arizona’s Safety Responsibility Act "has for its principal purpose the protection of the public . . . from financial hardship" resulting from involvement in traffic accidents with uninsured motorists unable to respond to a judgment. Schecter v. Killingsworth, 93 Ariz. at 280, 380 P.2d at 140. The Court in Kesler was able to declare, although the source of support is unclear, that the Utah statute could be upheld because it was "not an Act for the Relief of Mulcted Creditors" or a statute "designed to aid collection of debts." 369 U.S. at 174, 169. But here the respondents urge us to uphold precisely the sort of statute that Kesler would have stricken down -- one with a declared purpose to protect judgment creditors "from financial hardship" by giving them a powerful weapon with which to force bankrupts to pay their debts despite their discharge. Whereas the Acts in Kesler and Reitz had the effect of frustrating federal law but had, the Court said, no such purpose, the Arizona Act has both that effect and that purpose. Believing as we do that Kesler and Reitz are not in harmony with sound constitutional principle, they certainly should not be extended to cover this new and distinguishable case.


One final argument merits discussion. The dissent points out that the District of Columbia Code contains an anti-discharge provision similar to that included in the Arizona Act. Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act of the District of Columbia, D.C.Code Ann. § 40464 (1967), 68 Stat. 132. In light of our decision today, the sum of the argument is to draw into question the constitutional validity of the District’s anti-discharge section, for, as noted in the dissent, the Constitution confers upon Congress the power "[t]o establish . . . uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States." U.S.Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 4 (emphasis added). It is asserted that "Congress must have regarded the two statutes as consistent and compatible," post at 665, but such an argument assures a modicum of legislative attention to the question of consistency. The D.C.Code section does, of course, refer specifically to discharges, but its passage may, at most, be viewed as evidencing an opinion of Congress on the meaning of the general discharge provision enacted by an earlier Congress and interpreted by this Court as early as 1925. See Lewis v. Roberts, supra. In fact, in passing the initial and amended version of the District of Columbia financial responsibility law, Congress gave no attention to the interaction of the anti-discharge section with the Bankruptcy Act.{15} Moreover, the legislative history is quite clear that, when Congress dealt with the subject of financial responsibility laws for the District, it based its work upon the efforts of the uniform commissioners which had won enactment in other States.{16}

Had Congress focused on the interaction between this minor subsection of the rather lengthy financial responsibility act and the discharge provision of the Bankruptcy Act, it would have been immediately apparent to the legislators that the only constitutional method for so defining the scope and effect of a discharge in bankruptcy was by amendment of the Bankruptcy Act, which, by its terms, is a uniform statute applicable in the States, Territories, and the District of Columbia. 11 U.S.C. § 1(29). To follow any other course would obviously be to legislate in such a way that a discharge in bankruptcy means one thing in the District of Columbia and something else in the States -- depending on state law -- a result explicitly prohibited by the uniformity requirement in the constitutional authorization to Congress to enact bankruptcy legislation.


From the foregoing, we think it clear that § 28-1163(b) of the Arizona Safety Responsibility Act is constitutionally invalid. The Judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

1. See Reviser’s Note, Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 21101.

2. Under Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1143(A), the owner or operator of a car involved in an accident need not post security as required by § 28-1142 (Supp. 1970-1971): (1) if the accident caused injury or damage to no person or property other than the owner’s car or the operator’s person; (2) if the car was parked when involved in the accident, unless it was parked illegally or did not carry a legally sufficient complement of lights; (3) if the car was being driven or was parked by another without the owner’s express or implied permission; (4) if prior to date for suspension the person whose license or registration would be suspended files with the superintendent a release, a final adjudication of nonliability, a confession of judgment, or some other written settlement agreement providing for payment, in installments, of an agreed amount of damages with respect to claims arising from the accident; or (5) if the driver at the time of the accident was driving a vehicle owned, operated, or leased by his employer with the employer’s permission; in that case the security and suspension provisions apply only to the owner employer’s registration of vehicles not covered by insurance or other bond.

3. This section further provides that the superintendent may employ suspension a second time as a means of enforcing payment should there be a default on installment obligations arising under a confession of judgment or a written settlement agreement. Ariz.Rev.Stat. Ann § 28-1144(3).

4. Ariz.Rev.Stat. Ann § 28-1102 (Supp. 1970-1971) defines "judgment," for purposes of the Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act, as

any judgment which has become final . . . upon a cause of action arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle, for damages . . . or upon a cause of action on an agreement of settlement for such damages.

5. Under Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1161(b), a similar notice must also be forwarded to officials in the home State of a nonresident judgment debtor.


A. The superintendent upon receipt of a certified copy of a judgment, shall forthwith suspend the license and registration and nonresident operating privilege of a person against whom the judgment was rendered, except as otherwise provided in this section and § 28-1165.

7. Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1163(A). Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1164 (Supp. 1971971) defines when a judgment is "paid." Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1165 sets forth a procedure for paying judgments in installments. Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1162(b) provides that, if a creditor consents in writing and the debtor furnishes proof of financial responsibility, see Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1167, the debtor’s license and registration may be restored in the superintendent’s discretion. After six months, however, the creditor’s consent is revocable provided the judgment debt remains unpaid.

8. Sections 28-1167 through 21178 set forth the requirements for various forms of proof. Under § 28-1178, the judgment debtor is apparently able to regain his license and registration to operate a motor vehicle without proof of financial responsibility after three years from the date such proof was first required of him, if during that period the superintendent has not received any notice -- and notice can come from other States -- of a conviction or forfeiture of bail which would require or permit the suspension or revocation of the driver’s license and if the individual is not involved in litigation arising from an accident covered by the security he posted. If the driver required to post financial security does so, and is involved as an owner or operator in another accident resulting in personal injury or property damage within one year prior to the date he requests permission to cancel his security, the superintendent may not permit cancellation.

9. U.S.Const., Art. VI, cl. 2.

10. Mr. and Mrs. Perez also alleged in their complaint that certain provisions of the Arizona Act imposed involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment, and denied Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection. They also claimed that portions of the Arizona Act operated as a bill of attainder in violation of Art. I, § 10, of the Constitution. The District Judge, in refusing to request the convening of a three-judge court, ruled that these constitutional claims were "obviously insubstantial." The Court of Appeals agreed. 421 F.2d 619, 625 (CA9 1970). Because of our resolution of this case, we express no opinion as to the substantiality of any of petitioners’ other constitutional claims.

11. As discussed below, the majorities in Kesler and Reitz also seemed unwilling to be bound by, or even to look for, state court constructions of the financial responsibility laws before them. See infra at 652-654. It is clear, however, from even a cursory examination of decisions in other States that the conclusion of the Arizona Supreme Court as to the purpose of the financial responsibility law is by no means unusual. See, e.g., Sullivan v. Cheatham, 264 Ala. 71, 76, 84 So.2d 374, 378 (1955) ("The purpose of the [Motor Vehicle Safety-Responsibility] Act is clearly to require and establish financial responsibility for every owner or operator of a motor vehicle `in any manner involved in an accident.’. . . The Act is designed to protect all persons having claims arising out of highway accidents."); Escobedo v. State Dept. of Motor Vehicles, 35 Cal.2d 870, 876, 222 P.2d 1, 5 (1950) ("[T]he state chose to allow financially irresponsible licensed operators to drive until they became involved in an accident with the consequences described in the [financial responsibility law] and their financial irresponsibility was thus brought to the attention of the department, and then to require suspension of their licenses."); People v. Nothaus, 147 Colo. 210, 215-216, 363 P.2d 180, 183 (1961) ("The requirement of C.R.S. ’53, 13-7-7, that the director of revenue, ` . . . shall suspend the license of each operator and all registrations of each owner of a motor vehicle in any manner involved in [an] accident . . .’ unless such person deposit a sum sufficient in the judgment of the director . . .’ to pay any damage which may be awarded, or otherwise show ability to indemnify the other party to the accident against financial loss, has nothing whatever to do with the protection of the public safety, health, morals or welfare. It is a device designated and intended to bring about the posting of security for the payment of a private obligation without the slightest indication that any legal obligation exists on the part of any person. The public gets no protection whatever from the deposit of such security. This is not the situation which we find in some states where the statutes require public liability insurance as a condition to be met before a driver’s license will issue. Such statute protects the public. The statute before us is entirely different. In the matters to which we have particularly directed attention, C.R.S. ’53, 13-7-7, is unconstitutional. On a matter so obviously basic and fundamental no additional citation of authority is required. We reach this conclusion notwithstanding the fact that other jurisdictions have seemingly overlooked basic constitutional guarantees which must be ignored in reaching an opposite conclusion."); Dempsey v. Tynan, 143 Conn. 202, 208, 120 A.2d 700, 703 (1956) ("The purpose of the legislature in enacting the financial responsibility provisions . . . was to keep off our highways the financially irresponsible owner or operator of an automobile who cannot respond in damages for the injuries he may inflict, and to require him, as a condition for securing or retaining a registration or an operator’s license, to furnish adequate means of satisfying possible claims against him."); City of St. Paul v. Hoffmann, 223 Minn. 76, 77-78, 25 N.W.2d 661, 662-663 (1946) ("The apparent objective of the safety responsibility act is to provide financial responsibility for injuries and damages suffered in motor vehicle traffic. It seeks to achieve its objective solely by the suspension of licenses. While its announced purpose is to promote safety of travel, its provisions take effect after an accident happens and subject drivers and owners of vehicles involved to suspension of their `licenses’ unless liability insurance coverage equivalent to that required by the act is carried by the owner or driver of the vehicle. . . . The purpose of the act was to effect financial responsibility to injured persons."); Rosenblum v. Griffin, 89 N.H. 314, 318, 197 A. 701, 704 (1938) ("Two reasons were thought to avail for sustaining such a law. One was its character as a regulation of the use of public highways, and the other was its capacity to secure public safety in dangerous agencies and operations. This latter reason has slight, if any, evidence for its factual support. Certainly, in the absence of known experience and statistics, it is doubtful whether the insured owner’s car, driven either by himself or another, may be considered to be operated more carefully than one whose owner is uninsured. But protection in securing redress for injured highway travelers is a proper subject of police regulation, as well as protection from being injured. It is a reasonable incident of the general welfare that financially irresponsible persons be denied the use of the highway with their cars, regardless of the competency of themselves or others as the drivers."). For legislative statements to the effect that financial responsibility laws are designed to secure compensation for injured victims, see, e.g., Alaska Stat. § 28.20.010 (1970); Gillaspie v. Department of Public Safety, 152 Tex. 459, 463, 259 S.W.2d 177, 180 (1953) (quoting emergency clause enacted by the Texas Legislature in connection with its financial responsibility law); S.Rep. No. 515, 83d Cong., 1st Sess., 2 (1953) (Report of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia on the financial responsibility law proposed for the District).

12. See Reitz, 314 U.S. at 40-43 (DOUGLAS, J., dissenting).

Under Art. 3 of the Arizona Act, dealing with the posting of security for damages arising from a particular accident, the victim may cut the superintendent out by executing a release from liability or agreeing to some other written settlement or confession of judgment providing for payment of some damages, in installments or otherwise. Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1143(A)(4) discussed in n. 2, supra. Assuming that such an agreement or confession of judgment providing for installment payments is filed with the superintendent, it prevents him from suspending driving privileges for failure to post the amount of financial security the superintendent determines to be necessary; however, if the careless driver later defaults on one installment, the victim may give notice to the superintendent, who must then use his power of suspension to either coerce full payment or the posting of security. Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 281144(3), discussed in n. 3, supra.

Under Art. 4, dealing with suspension for nonpayment of a judgment, the victim who has chosen to reduce his claim to judgment maintains substantial control over the suspension of driving privileges if the judgment remains unsatisfied 60 days after entry. He may consent that the judgment debtor’s driving privileges not be suspended, but the debtor still must furnish proof of financial responsibility for the future. Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1162(b). For an argument that a similar provision delegating to judgment creditors the right to choose which careless drivers who do not pay judgments shall escape suspension conflicts with the Bankruptcy Act see Kesler, 369 U.S. at 179-182 (Warren, C.J., dissenting). If the judgment debtor is able to secure a discretionary court order permitting him to pay a judgment in installments under § 28-1165(A), the creditor may cause suspension of driving privileges until the judgment is fully satisfied by notifying the superintendent of any default in payment of the installments. Ariz.Rev. Stat.Ann. § 28-1165(C). Again, however, the judgment debtor must still give proof of financial responsibility for the future. See Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1165(b).

13. Kesler also decided a jurisdictional question, holding that a Supremacy Clause challenge to a state statute was required to be heard by a three-judge district court under 28 U.S.C. § 2281. See 369 U.S. at 155-158. This jurisdictional part of the decision was overruled almost four years later in Swift & Co. v. Wickham, 382 U.S. 111, 116 (1965).

14. It also seems clear that even under the logic of Kesler and Reitz, Mrs. Perez should not have lost her driving privileges. She was not present when the accident occurred, and no act or omission on her part contributed to it. Because the automobile was community property under Arizona law and because judgment was confessed as to her in the Pinkerton negligence action, the Court of Appeals reasoned that loss of Mrs. Perez’ license "is the price an Arizona wife must pay for negligent driving by her husband of the community vehicle" when the resulting judgment is not paid. 421 F.2d at 624. The Kesler and Reitz assumption that depriving uninsured motorists of the full relief afforded by a discharge in bankruptcy would prompt careful driving is without foundation when applied to Mrs. Perez. As the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated in a recent decision involving similar facts:

Even accepting the fiction that, as applied to drivers, motor vehicle responsibility statutes are intended to promote safety, it is just too much fiction to contend that, applied to a judgment debtor held vicariously liable for the omission of a sub-agent, the statute is anything but a means for the enforcement of judgments.

Miller v. Anckaitis, 436 F.2d 115, 118 (CA3 1970) (en banc).

15. See S.Rep. No. 10, 74th Cong., 1st Sess. (1935); H.R.Rep. No. 208, 74th Cong., 1st Sess. (1935) (both presenting a summary of the provisions of the proposed statute dealing with "Financial Responsibility of Motor Vehicle Operators in the District of Columbia," but failing to mention the fact that a discharge in bankruptcy of an accident judgment would have no effect on suspension of driving privileges for failure to satisfy such judgment); H.R.Conf.Rep. No. 799, 74th Cong., 1st Sess. (1935) (Conference Report making no mention of anti-discharge provision); 79 Cong.Rec. 272273 (Senate); 79 Cong.Rec. 3416-3417, 4621-4629, 4631-4641, 6556-6564 (House). Some members of the House, which debated some aspects of the financial responsibility law concept rather extensively in 1935, demonstrated in debate that they were totally unaware of any of the provisions designed to enforce payment of a judgment for injuries caused by the first accident of a financially irresponsible driver. See 79 Cong.Rec. 4624 (remarks of Reps. Fitzpatrick and Sisson); id. at 4625 (remarks of Rep. Eull).

When the present District of Columbia financial responsibility law was enacted in 1954, debate was much more limited, and the reports of the House and Senate District Committees were quite brief. Except for the reading of the bill, no mention was made of the anti-discharge provision. See S.Rep. No. 515, 83d Cong., 1st Sess. (1953); H.R.Rep. No. 1448, 83d Cong., 2d Sess. (1954); 99 Cong.Rec. 8950-8951; 100 Cong.Rec. 6281-6287, 6347-6348.

16. S.Rep. No. 10, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., 3 (1935); H.R.Rep. No. 208, 74th Cong., 1st Sess., 3 (1935); 79 Cong.Rec. 4626-4627 (remarks of Rep. Norton, chairman of the House District Committee). In reference to the present version of the financial responsibility act, see S.Rep. No. 515, 83d Cong., 1st Sess., 1 (1953); H.R.Rep. No. 1448, 83d Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1954); 100 Cong.Rec. 6287 (remarks of Rep. Talle); id. at 6347 (remarks of Sen. Beall).


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Chicago: White, "White, J., Lead Opinion," Perez v. Campbell, 402 U.S. 637 (1971) in 402 U.S. 637 402 U.S. 639–402 U.S. 657. Original Sources, accessed March 25, 2023,

MLA: White. "White, J., Lead Opinion." Perez v. Campbell, 402 U.S. 637 (1971), in 402 U.S. 637, pp. 402 U.S. 639–402 U.S. 657. Original Sources. 25 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: White, 'White, J., Lead Opinion' in Perez v. Campbell, 402 U.S. 637 (1971). cited in 1971, 402 U.S. 637, pp.402 U.S. 639–402 U.S. 657. Original Sources, retrieved 25 March 2023, from