In 1868, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could regulate insurance sales and issuance. The deciding factor, according to the Court was that insurance sales were not interstate commerce. This case was brought by the National Board of Fire Underwriters. The purpose of the case was to challenge the states’ ability to regulate insurance sales.
In the 19th century, life and fire insurance companies began marketing products nationally. In an effort to encourage local enterprise, states began levying license fees and taxes on insurance companies that were not based in the state. This type of legislation was mostly focused on the large insurance companies headquartered in the Northeast United States.
Paul v. Virginia became a landmark case for states’ rights. Paul was an insurance agent for several New York state fire insurance companies. He was selling insurance in Virginia and was convicted for selling insurance without a license under Virginia law.
Paul lived in Virginia and was a resident of the Commonwealth. He was appointed to sell insurance against fire by several New York insurance companies. He applied for a license with the state, but did not deposit bonds with the state treasurer and was refused the license.
The insurance company lawyers argued that their corporations should be considered citizens and be covered under Article IV and the Privileges and Immunities Clause. The ruling by the Supreme Court denied this argument and found that corporations were not citizens as defined by this clause.
In a later 1944 ruling in United States v. Southeastern Underwriters Association, the court found that insurance was interstate commerce, however by this time state regulatory systems were well-defined. Congress strengthened the states’ positions in 1945 when they authorized the McCarran-Ferguson Act and recognized state insurance regulation.
This ruling also held that the federal government could regulate insurance transactions under the Commerce Clause. To date, this ruling has not been reversed.