United State v. Kahriger/Concurrence Jackson

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United States Supreme Court

345 U.S. 22

United State  v.  Kahriger

 Argued: Dec. 16, 17, 1952. --- Decided: March 9, 1953


Mr. Justice JACKSON, concurring.

I concur in the judgment and opinion of the Court, but with such doubt that if the minority agreed upon an opinion which did not impair legitimate use of the taxing power I probably would join it. But we deal here with important and contrasting values in our scheme of government, and it is important that neither be allowed to destroy the other.

On the one hand, the Fifth Amendment provides that no person 'shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself'. This has been broadly construed to confer immunity not only 'in any criminal case' but in any federal inquiry where the information might be useful later to convict of a federal crime. Extension of the immunity doctrines to the federal power to inquire as to income derived from violation of state penal laws would create a large number of immunities from reporting which would vary from state to state. Moreover, the immunity can be claimed without being established, otherwise one would be required to prove guilt to avoid admitting it. Sweeping and undiscriminating application of the immunity doctrines to taxation would almost give the taxpayer an option to refuse to report, as it now gives witnesses a virtual option to refuse to testify. The Fifth Amendment should not be construed to impair the taxing power conferred by the original Constitution, and especially by the Sixteenth Amendment, further than is absolutely required.

Of course, all taxation has a tendency proportioned to its burdensomeness to discourage the activity taxed. One cannot formulate a revenue-raising plan that would not have economic and social consequences. Congress may and should place the burden of taxes where it will least handicap desirable activities and bear most heavily on useless or harmful ones. If Congress may tax one citizen to the point of discouragement for making an honest living, it is hard to say that it may not do the same to another just because he makes a sinister living. If the law-abiding must tell all to the tax collector, it is difficult to excuse one because his business is law-breaking. Strangely enough, Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination has been refused to business as against inquisition by the regulatory power, Shapiro v. United States, 335 U.S. 1, 68 S.Ct. 1375, 92 L.Ed. 1787, in what seemed to me a flagrant violation of it. See dissenting opinion, 335 U.S. at page 70, 68 S.Ct. 1410.

But here is a purported tax law which requires no reports and lays no tax except on specified gamblers whose calling in most states is illegal. It requires this group to step forward and identify themselves, not because they like others have income, but because of its source. This is difficult to regard as a rational or good-faith revenue measure, despite the deference that is due Congress. On the contrary, it seems to be a plan to tax out of existence the professional gambler whom it has been found impossible to prosecute out of existence. Few pursuits are entitled to less consideration at our hands than professional gambling, but the plain unwelcome fact is that it continues to survive because a large and influential part of our population patronizes and protects it.

The United States has a system of taxation by confession. That a people so numerous, scattered and individualistic annually assesses itself with a tax liability, often in highly burdensome amounts, is a reassuring sign of the stability and vitality of our system of self-government. What surprised me in once trying to help administer these laws was not to discover examples of recalcitrance, fraud or self-serving mistakes in reporting, but to discover that such derelictions were so few. It will be a sad day for the revenues if the good will of the people toward their taxing system is frittered away in efforts to accomplish by taxation moral reforms that cannot be accomplished by direct legislation. But the evil that can come from this statute will probably soon make itself manifest to Congress. The evil of a judicial decision impairing the legitimate taxing power by extreme constitutional interpretations might not be transient. Even though this statute approaches the fair limits of constitutionality, I join the decision of the Court.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, dissenting.

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).