Tiernan v. Rinker/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

102 U.S. 123

Tiernan  v.  Rinker


The petitioners rely upon the ruling of this court in the case of Welton v. State of Missouri to sustain their position. There the State had exacted the payment of a license tax from travelling pedlers who dealt in the sale of goods, wares, and merchandise which were not the growth, product, or manufacture of the State, and required no such license tax from similar traders selling goods which were the growth, product, or manufacture of the State. And this court held, following in that respect the ruling in Brown v. Maryland, that the tax exacted from dealers in goods before they could be sold was in effect a tax upon the goods themselves, and that the legislation which thus discriminated against the products of other States in the conditions upon which they could be sold by a certain class of dealers was in conflict with the commercial clause of the Constitution.

In deciding the case, the court observed that the power conferred by this clause to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States is without limitation; and that to regulate commerce is to prescribe the conditions upon which it shall be conducted; to determine how far it shall be free from restrictions; how far it shall be subjected to duties and imposts; and how far it shall be prohibited; that when the subject to which the power applies is national in its character, or of such a nature as to admit of uniformity of regulation, the power is exclusive of State authority; that the portion of commerce with foreign countries or between the States, which consists in the transportation and exchange of commodities, is of national importance and admits and requires uniformity of regulation; that the object of vesting this power in the general government was to insure this uniformity against discriminating State legislation; and that to that end this power must cover the property which is the subject of trade from hostile or interfering legislation until it has become a part of the general property of the country and subject to similar protection and to no greater burdens. If, before that time, the property can become subject to any restrictions by State legislation, the object of vesting the control in Congress may be defeated. If the State can exact a license tax from one class of traders for the sale of goods which are the growth, product, or manufacture of other States, it can exact the license from all traders in such goods, and the amount of the tax will rest in its discretion. 'Imposts,' the court said, 'operating as an absolute exclusion of the goods, would be possible, and all the evils of discriminating State legislation favorable to the interests of one State and injurious to the interests of other States and Countries, which existed previous to the adoption of the Constitution, might follow, and the experience of the last fifteen years shows would follow, from the action of some of the States.' The court, therefore, held that the commercial power of the Federal government over a commodity continued until the commodity had ceased to be the subject of discriminating legislation in any State by reason of its foreign character, and that this power protects it after it has entered the State from any burdens imposed by reason of its foreign origin. The court also held that the inaction of Congress to prescribe any specific rules to govern inter-state commerce, when considered with reference to its legislation with respect to foreign commerce, is equivalent to a declaration that inter-state commerce shall be free and untrammelled, and that this policy would be defeated by discriminating legislation like that of Missouri.

The doctrine of this case has never been questioned; it has been uniformly recognized and approved, and expresses now the settled judgment of the court.

According to it, the statute of Texas is inoperative, so far as it makes a discrimination against wines and beer imported from other States, when sold separately from other liquors. A tax cannot be exacted for the sale of beer and wines when a foreign manufacture, if not exacted from their sale when of home manufacture. If a party be engaged exclusively in the sale of these liquors, or in any business for which a tax is levied because it embraces a sale of them, he may justly object to the discriminating character of the act, and on that account challenge its validity, under the decision in question; but if engaged in the sale of other liquors than beer or wines, he cannot complain of the State tax on that ground. The statute makes no discrimination in favor of other liquors of home manufacture. Whilst it groups the sale of several kinds of liquors as one occupation, it evidently intends that the occupation which consists in the sale of any one of the several liquors named, in the quantities mentioned, shall be subject to taxation, as though it read, 'for selling spirituous, or vinous, or malt, or other intoxicating liquors.' It does not require to justify the tax that a party shall be engaged in the sale of all the liquors mentioned, as well as other liquors. This being the true construction of the act, there can be no objection to its enforcement where the tax is levied for occupations for the sale of other liquors than wines and beers. In the present case the petitioners describe themselves as engaged in the occupation of selling spirituous, vinous, malt, and other intoxicating liquors; that is, in all the liquors mentioned and others not mentioned. There is no reason why they should be exempted from the tax when selling brandies and whiskies and other alcoholic drinks, in the quantities mentioned, because they could not be thus taxed if their occupation was limited to the sale of wines and beer.

We see, therefore, no error in the ruling of the Supreme Court of Texas, and its judgment is accordingly

Affirmed.

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).