In law, comity specifically refers to legal reciprocity—the principle that one jurisdiction will extend certain courtesies to other nations (or other jurisdictions within the same nation), particularly by recognizing the validity and effect of their executive, legislative, and judicial acts. The term refers to the idea that courts should not act in a way that demeans the jurisdiction, laws, or judicial decisions of another jurisdiction. Part of the presumption of comity is that other jurisdictions will reciprocate the courtesy shown to them. Many statutes relating to the enforcement of foreign judgments require that the judgments of a particular jurisdiction will be recognized and enforced by a forum only to the extent that the other jurisdiction would recognize and enforce the judgments rendered by that forum. See reciprocity (international relations).
In the law of the United States, comity may refer to the Privileges and Immunities Clause (sometimes called the Comity Clause) in Article Four of the United States Constitution. This clause provides that "The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States."
In the context of professional licensure, comity refers to one jurisdiction granting credit for experience earned and exams passed in a different jurisdiction.
But judicially, comity should not be misinterpreted as implying that all laws are of universal jurisdiction. In many countries, comity is effective only to the extent that foreign laws or judgments do not directly conflict with the foreign country's public policy: for example, the United States will not enforce foreign judgments (such as defamation judgments) where the foreign court did not provide as much protection as the free speech protections in the United States (see SPEECH Act of 2010).
The principle of legal comity first arose through the work of a 17th-century Dutch jurist, Ulrich Huber. It was subsequently refined by the American judge Joseph Story.
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