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U.S. Supreme Court

Kotch v. Board of River Port Pilot Comm'rs, 330 U.S. 552 (1947)

Kotch v. Board of River Port Pilot Commissioners

No. 291

Argued February 5, 6, 1947

Decided March 31, 1947

330 U.S. 552


1. The pilotage law of Louisiana requires that ocean-going vessels, other than coastal vessels whose pilotage is subject exclusively to federal regulation, shall be piloted through the Mississippi River approaches to the port of New Orleans, and in the port, only by pilots appointed by the Governor. Pilots so appointed have the status of state officers. Only those are eligible for appointment as state pilots who, in addition to other specific qualifications, have served an apprenticeship of six months under state pilots and who are certified by a Board composed of state pilots. Appellants, experienced in piloting coastal vessels on the river and in the port, and possessing all of the statutory qualifications except the six months' apprenticeship under state pilots, were denied appointment as state pilots. Seeking judicial relief, appellants alleged that the incumbent pilots generally selected as apprentices only relatives and friends of incumbents; that the selections were made by electing prospective apprentices into a pilots' association, formed under authority of state law; that, since "membership . . . has chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 330 U. S. 553

been closed . . . to all except those having the favor of the pilots," the result is that generally only their relatives and friends have and can become state pilots.

Held: considering the entirely unique institution of pilotage in the light of its history in Louisiana and elsewhere, the pilotage law as so administered does not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 330 U. S. 553-564.

2. The Federal Constitution does not require a state governor, or subordinates responsible to him and removable by him for cause, to select state public servants by competitive tests or by any other particular method of selection. Pp. 330 U. S. 563-564.

3. The method adopted by Louisiana for the selection of pilots is not without relation to the objective of securing for the State and others interested the safest and most efficiently operated pilotage system practicable. P. 330 U. S. 564.

209 Lo. 737, 25 So.2d 527, affirmed.

A suit brought by appellants in a state court challenging the validity under the Federal Constitution of the pilotage law of Louisiana was dismissed. The Supreme Court of the State affirmed. 209 La. 737, 25 So.2d 527. An appeal was taken to this Court. Affirmed, p. 330 U. S. 564.

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