Steward Machine Company v. Davis/Dissent Butler

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Mr. Justice BUTLER, dissenting.

I think that the objections to the challenged enactment expressed in the separate opinions of Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS and Mr. Justice SUTHERLAND are well taken. I am also of opinion that, in principle and as applied to bring about and to gain control over state unemployment compensation, the statutory scheme is repugnant to the Tenth Amendment: 'The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.' The Constitution grants to the United States no power to pay unemployed persons or to require the states to enact laws or to raise or disburse money for that purpose. The provisions in question, if not amounting to coercion in a legal sense, are manifestly designed and intended directly to affect state action in the respects specified. And, if valid as so employed, this 'tax and credit' device may be made effective to enable federal authorities to induce, if not indeed to compel, state enactments for any purpose within the realm of state power and generally to control state administration of state laws.

The act creates a Social Security Board and imposes upon it the duty of studying and making recommendations as to legislation and as to administrative policies concerning unemployment compensation and related subjects. Section 702, 42 U.S.C.A. § 902. It authorizes grants of money by the United States to States for old age assistance, for administration of unemployment compensation, for aid to dependent children, for maternal and child welfare and for public health. Each grant depends upon state compliance with conditions prescribed by federal authority. The amounts given being within the discretion of the Congress, it may at any time make available federal money sufficient effectively to influence state policy, standards and details of administration.

The excise laid by section 901 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1101) is limited to specified employers. It is not imposed to raise money to pay unemployment compensation. But it is imposed having regard to that subject for, upon enactment of state laws for that purpose in conformity with federal requirements specified in the act, each of the employers subject to the federal tax becomes entitled to credit for the amount he pays into an unemployment fund under a state law up to 90 per cent. of the federal tax. The amounts yielded by the remaining 10 per cent., not assigned to any specific purpose, may be applied to pay the federal contributions and expenses in respect of state unemployment compensation. It is not yet possible to determine more closely the sums that will be needed for these purposes.

When the federal act was passed, Wisconsin was the only state paying unemployment compensation. Though her plan then in force is by students of the subject generally deemed the best yet devised, she found it necessary to change her law in order to secure federal approval. In the absence of that, Wisconsin employers subject to the federal tax would not have been allowed any deduction on account of their contribution to the state fund. Any state would be moved to conform to federal requirements, not utterly objectionable, in order to save its taxpayers from the federal tax imposed in addition to the contributions under state laws.

Federal agencies prepared and took draft bills to state Legislatures to enable and induce them to pass laws providing for unemployment compensation in accordance with federal requirements and thus to obtain relief for the employers from the impending federal exaction. Obviously the act creates the peril of federal tax not to raise revenue but to persuade. Of course, each state was free to reject any measure so proposed. But, if it failed to adopt a plan acceptable to federal authority, the full burden of the federal tax would be exacted. And, as federal demands similarly conditioned may be increased from time to time as Congress shall determine, possible federal pressure in that field is without limit. Already at least forty-three states, yielding to the inducement resulting immediately from the application of the federal tax and credit device, have provided for unemployment compensation in form to merit approval of the Social Security Board. Presumably the remaining States will comply whenever convenient for their Legislatures to pass the necessary laws.

The terms of the measure make it clear that the tax and credit device was intended to enable federal officers virtually to control the exertion of powers of the states in a field in which they alone have jurisdiction and from which the United States is by the Constitution excluded.

I am of opinion that the judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals should be reversed.