Williams v. Edgar Fears

Decision Date10 December 1900
Docket NumberNo. 287,287
Citation179 U.S. 270,45 L.Ed. 186,21 S.Ct. 128
PartiesR. A. WILLIAMS, Plff. in Err. , v. EDGAR FEARS, Sheriff, and R. B. Aycock, Jailer
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

R. A. Williams was arrested on a warrant issued by the county court of Morgan county, Georgia, and placed in the county jail on his failure to give bond pending his trial. Thereupon he made application to the judge of the superior court within and for that county for a writ of habeas corpus by petition alleging that the warrant under which he was arrested charged him with a violation of the 10th paragraph of § 2 of the general tax act of Georgia of 1898, and that his restraint was illegal because that part of the act was in conflict with clause 3 of § 8, and with clause 5 of § 9, of article 1, and with § 2 of article 4 of the Constitution of the United States; and also with the 14th Amendment. The writ of habeas corpus was duly issued, and the application heard on the return thereto, which resulted in the denial of the petition by the superior court, and the remanding of Williams to custody. The case was then carried to the supreme court of Georgia, where, on April 11, 1900, judgment was rendered affirming the judgment of the superior court. 35 S. E. 699.

The title of the general tax act of 1898 (Georgia Laws 1898, p. 21) read thus:

'An act to levy and collect a tax for the support of the state government and the public institutions; for educational purposes in iustructing children in the elementary branches of an English education only; to pay the interest on the public debt, and to pay maimed Confederate soldiers and widows of Confederate soldiers such amounts as are allowed them by law for each of the fiscal years 1899 and 1900; to prescribe what persons, professions, and property are liable to taxation; to prescribe the methods of collecting and receiving taxes; to prescribe the method of ascertaining the property of the state subject to taxation; to prescribe additional questions to be propounded to taxpayers, and to provide penalties and forfeitures for nonpayment of taxes; to prescribe how the oath of taxpayers shall be administered, and provide penalties for violation thereof, and for other purposes.'

Section 2 provided 'that in addition to the ad valorem tax on real estate and personal property as required by the Constitution and provided for in the preceding section, the following specific taxes shall be levied and collected for each of said fiscal years 1899 and 1900.'

Then followed paragraphs imposing poll taxes, and taxes on lawyers, doctors, photographers, auctioneers, keepers of pool and billiard tables, traveling venders of patent or proprietary medicines, special nostrums, jewelry, paper, soap, or other merchandise, local insurance agents, etc.

Paragraph 10 was as follows:

'Upon each emigrant agent, or employer or employee of such agents, doing business in this state, the sum of $500 for each county in which such business is conducted.'

Section 4 was as follows:

'Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that the taxes provided for in paragraphs 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32 of § 2 of this act shall be paid in full for the fiscal years for which they are levied to the tax collectors of the counties where such vocations are carried on at the time of commencing to do business specified in said paragraphs. Before any person taxed by paragraphs 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32 of § 2 of this act shall be authorized to carry on said business they shall go before the ordinary of the county in which they propose to do business, and register their names, places of business, and at the same time pay their taxes to the tax collector; and it shall be the duty of said ordinary to immediately notify the comptroller general and the tax collector. Any person failing to register with the ordinary, or, having registered, failing to pay the tax as herein required, shall be liable to indictment for misdemeanor, and, on conviction, shall be fined not less than double the tax, or be imprisoned as prescribed by § 1039 of volume 3 of the Code of 1895, or both, in the discretion of the court. One half of said fine shall be applied to the payment of the tax, and the other to the fund of fines and forfeitures for use of officers of court.'

[Mr. James Davison for plaintiff in error.

Mr. J. M. Terrell for defendants in error.

Mr. Chief Justice Fuller delivered the opinion of the court:

Persons following the occupations named in some twenty-nine paragraphs of § 2 of the tax act of 1898, if they failed to register their names before the ordinary, or, having registered, failed to pay their taxes, as required by § 4, were liable to indictment for misdemeanor.

The supreme court of Georgia pointed out that it did not distinctly appear whether Williams was charged with having done business without registering, or without paying the tax, but considered that to be immaterial, since he could not be punished for a failure to do either, if the provision imposing the tax were unconstitutional.

As preliminary to considering the validity of the provision the court, as matter of original definition, and in view of prior legislation (Acts 1876, p. 17; Acts 1877, p. 120; Code, 1882, § 4598, a, b, c), held that the term 'emigrant agent,' as used in the general tax act of 1898, meant a person engaged in hiring laborers in Georgia to be employed beyond the limits of that state.

The court called attention to the fact that, while previous acts had required a license, this act provided for a specific tax on the occupation of emigrant agents in common with very many other occupations, the declared purpose of the levy being for the support of the government, and ruled that the question of whether the tax was so excessive as to amount to a prohibition on the transaction of that business did not arise, and, indeed, was not raised.

The inquiry is, then, whether a state law taxing occupations is invalid so far as applicable to the pursuit of the business of hiring persons to labor outside the state limits, because in conflict with the Federal Constitution.

On behalf of plaintiff in error it is insisted that paragraph 10 is in conflict with the 14th Amendment because it restricts the right of the citizen to move from one state to another, and so abridges his privileges and immunities; impairs the natural right to labor; and is class legislation, discriminating arbitrarily and without reasonable basis.

Undoubtedly the right of locomotion, the right to remove from one place to another according to inclination, is an attribute of personal liberty, and the right, ordinarily, of free transit from or through the territory of any state is a right secured by the 14th Amendment and by other provisions of the Constitution.

And so as to the right to contract. The liberty, of which the deprivation without due process of law is forbidden, 'means not only the right of the citizen to be free from the mere physical restraint of his person, as by incarceration, but the term is deemed to embrace the right of the citizen to be free in the enjoyment of all his faculties; to be free to use them in all lawful ways; to live and work where he will; to earn his livelihood by any lawful calling; to pursue any livelihood or avocation, and for that purpose to enter into all contracts which may be proper, necessary, and essential to his carrying out to a successful conclusion the purposes above mentioned; . . . although it may be conceded that this right to contract in relation to persons or property or to do business within the jurisdiction of the state may be regulated and sometimes prohibited when the contracts or business conflict with...

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