329 U.S. 249 (1946), 3, Freeman v. Hewitt

Docket Nº:No. 3
Citation:329 U.S. 249, 67 S.Ct. 274, 91 L.Ed. 265
Party Name:Freeman v. Hewitt
Case Date:December 16, 1946
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 249

329 U.S. 249 (1946)

67 S.Ct. 274, 91 L.Ed. 265




No. 3

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 16, 1946

Argued November 8, 1944

Reargued October 14, 1946



A trustee of an estate created by the will of a decedent domiciled in Indiana at the time of his death instructed his Indiana broker to arrange for the sale of certain securities at stated prices. They were offered for sale on the New York Stock Exchange through the Indiana broker's New York correspondents. When a purchaser was found, the trustee delivered the securities in Indiana to his Indiana broker, who mailed them to New York. The New York brokers made delivery, received the purchase price, and remitted the proceeds (less expense and commission) to the Indiana broker, who delivered the proceeds (less commission) to the trustee in Indiana.


1. The Indiana Gross Income Tax Act of 1933 cannot constitutionally be applied to the gross receipts from these sales, since it would constitute a direct burden on interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause. Pp. 252-259.

2. McGoldrick v. Berwind-White Co., 309 U.S. 33; American Mfg. Co. v. St. Louis, 250 U.S. 459; Harvester Co. v. Department of Treasury, 322 U.S. 340, differentiated. Pp. 257-258.

3. The Commerce Clause protects interstate sales of intangibles, as well as interstate sales of tangibles. P. 258.

221 Ind. 675, 51 N.E.2d 6, reversed.

Appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court of Indiana sustaining application of the Indiana Gross Income Tax Act of 1933 to gross receipts from interstate sales of securities. 221 Ind. 675, 51 N.E.2d 6. Reversed, p. 259.

Page 250

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents another phase of the Indiana Gross Income Tax Act of 1933, which has been before this Court in a series of cases beginning with Adams Mfg. Co. v. Storen, 304 U.S. 307. The Act imposes a tax upon "the receipt of the entire gross income" of residents and domiciliaries of Indiana, but excepts from its scope

[s]uch gross income as is derived from business conducted in commerce between this state and other states of the United States . . . to the extent to which the State of Indiana is [67 S.Ct. 276] prohibited from taxing such gross income by the Constitution of the United States.

Indiana Laws 1933, pp. 388, 392, as amended, Laws 1937, p. 615, Burns' Ind.Stat.Anno. § 64-2601 et seq.

Appellant's predecessor, domiciled in Indiana, was trustee of an estate created by the will of a decedent domiciled in Indiana at the time of his death. During 1940, the trustee instructed his Indiana broker to arrange for the sale at stated prices of securities forming part of the trust estate. Through the broker's New York correspondents, the securities were offered for sale on the New York Stock Exchange. When a purchaser was found, the New York brokers

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notified the Indiana broker, who, in turn, informed the trustee, and the latter brought the securities to his broker for mailing to New York. Upon their delivery to the purchasers, the New York brokers received the purchase price, which, after deducting expenses and commission, they transmitted to the Indiana broker. The latter delivered the proceeds, less his commission, to the trustee. On the gross receipts of these sales, amounting to $65,214.20, Indiana, under the Act of 1933, imposed a tax of 1%. Having paid the tax under protest, the trustee brought this suit for its recovery. The Supreme Court of Indiana, reversing a court of first instance, sustained the tax on the ground that the situs of the securities was in Indiana. 221 Ind. 675, 51 N.E.2d 6. The case is here on appeal under § 237(a) of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. 344(a), and has had the consideration which two arguments afford.

The power of the States to tax and the limitations upon that power imposed by the Commerce Clause have necessitated a long, continuous process of judicial adjustment. The need for such adjustment is inherent in a federal government like ours, where the same transaction has aspects that may concern the interests and involve the authority of both the central government and of the constituent States. *

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The history of this problem is spread over hundreds of volumes of our Reports. To attempt to harmonize all that has been said in the past would neither clarify what has gone before not guide the future. Suffice it to say that, especially in this field, opinions must be read in the setting of the particular cases, and as the product of preoccupation with their special facts.

Our starting point is clear. In two recent cases, we applied the principle that the Commerce Clause was not merely an authorization to Congress to enact laws for the protection and encouragement of commerce among the States, but, by its own force, created an area of trade free from interference by the States. In short, the Commerce Clause, even without implementing legislation by Congress, is a limitation upon the power of the States. Southern Pacific Co. v. Arizona, 325 U.S. 761; Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373. In so deciding, we reaffirmed, upon fullest consideration, the course of adjudication unbroken through the Nation's history. This limitation on State power, as the Morgan case so well illustrates, does not merely forbid a State to single out interstate commerce for hostile action. A State is also precluded from taking any action which may fairly be deemed to have the effect of impeding the free flow of trade between States. It is immaterial that local commerce is subjected to a similar encumbrance. It may commend itself to a State [67 S.Ct. 277] to encourage a pastoral, instead of an industrial, society. That is its concern, and its privilege. But to compare a State's treatment of its local trade with the exertion of its authority against commerce in the national domain is to compare incomparables.

These principles of limitation on State power apply to all State policy, no matter what State interest gives rise to its legislation. A burden on interstate commerce is none the lighter, and no less objectionable, because it

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is imposed by a State under the taxing power, rather than under manifestations of police power in the conventional sense. But, in the necessary accommodation between local needs and the overriding requirement of freedom for the national commerce, the incidence of a particular type of State action may throw the balance in support of the local need because interference with the national interest is remote or unsubstantial. A police regulation of local aspects of interstate commerce is a power often essential to a State in safeguarding vital local interests. At least until Congress chooses to enact a nationwide rule, the power will not be denied to the State. The Minnesota Rate Cases, 230 U.S. 352, 402 et seq.; S.C. Hwy. Dept. v. Barnwell Bros., 303 U.S. 177, ; Union Brokerage Co. v. Jensen, 322 U.S. 202, 209-212. State taxation falling on interstate commerce, on the other hand, can only be justified as designed to make such commerce bear a fair share of the cost of the local government whose protection it enjoys. But revenue serves as well no matter what its source. To deny to a State a particular source of income because it taxes the very process of interstate commerce does not impose a crippling limitation on a State's ability to carry on its local function. Moreover, the burden on interstate commerce involved in a direct tax upon it is inherently greater, certainly less uncertain in its consequences, than results from the usual police regulations. The power to tax is a dominant power over commerce. Because the greater or more threatening burden of a direct tax on commerce is coupled with the lesser need to a State of a particular source of revenue, attempts at such taxation have always been more carefully scrutinized and more consistently resisted than police power regulations of aspects of such commerce. The task of scrutinizing is a task of drawing lines. This is the historic duty of the

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Court so long as Congress does not undertake to make specific arrangements between the national government and the States in regard to revenues from interstate commerce. See Act of July 3, 1944, 58 Stat. 723; H.Doc. 141, 79th Cong., 1st Sess., "Multiple Taxation of Air Commerce;" and compare 54 Stat. 1059, 4 U.S.C. § 13 et seq. (permission to State to extend taxing power to Federal areas). Considerations of proximity and degree are here, as so often in the law, decisive.

It has been suggested that such a tax is valid when a similar tax is placed on local trade, and a specious appearance of fairness is sought to be imparted by the argument that interstate commerce should not be favored at the expense of local trade. So to argue is to disregard the life of the Commerce Clause. Of course, a State is not required to give active advantage to interstate trade. But it cannot aim to control that trade, even though it desires to control its own. It cannot justify what amounts to a levy upon the very process of commerce across State lines by pointing to a similar hobble on its local trade. It is true that the existence of a tax on its local commerce detracts from the deterrent effect of a tax on interstate commerce to the extent that it removes the temptation to sell the goods locally. But the fact of such a tax, in any event, puts impediments upon the currents of commerce across the State line, while the aim of the Commerce Clause was precisely to prevent States from exacting toll from those engaged in national commerce. The Commerce Clause does not involve an exercise in the logic [67 S.Ct. 278] of empty categories. It operates within the framework of our federal scheme, and with due regard to the national experience reflected by the decisions...

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