Right to Travel

Authored By: American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia


Right to Travel

Although the right to travel is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has consistently held that it is fundamental to our freedom. In its most recent decision on the subject, Saenz v. Roe, the Court divided the right to travel into three components:

1. A citizen of one state has the right to enter, to leave, and to pass through another state. For example, a state cannot make it illegal to transport an indigent person into its territory.

2. A citizen of one state has the right to be treated as a "welcome visitor" rather than as an "unfriendly alien" when temporarily in another state. In other words, citizens may freely visit other states.

3. A citizen of one state who moves to another state has the right to be treated equally with the state's other residents. For example, the Court has held that it is unconstitutional for a state to limit welfare benefits during the first year a person resides in the state.

The full scope of this third component remains unclear. A state may still treat non-residents differently from residents; for example, many states require out-of-state students to pay higher tuition rates at their public universities. This probably remains constitutional, but questions remain about what requirements a state can impose before considering someone a 'resident.'

There is also a right to international travel. Essentially, citizens have the right to travel abroad and return to the United States. This right is essential to our freedom of thought, because it allows citizens to gather information and news from the rest of the world and bring them back to America.

None of these rights, however, are absolute-the government can restrict them if it has a sufficient reason to do so. For example, the Court has upheld the government's restrictions on travel to Cuba because of the alleged national security concerns the government cited.

American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia
Gerald Weber
Chris Monsour
Reviewed December 2005

Last Review and Update: Dec 22, 2005