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CRS Annotated Constitution

Fourteenth Amendment -- Table of ContentsPrev | Next

Inheritance Taxes.—There is no denial of equal protection in prescribing different treatment for lineal relations, collateral kindred and unrelated persons, or in increasing the proportionate burden of the tax progressively as the amount of the benefit increases.225 A tax on life estates where the remainder passes to lineal heirs is valid despite the exemption of life estates where the remainder passes to collateral heirs.226 There is no arbitrary classification in taxing the transmission of property to a brother or sister, while exempting that to a son–in–law or daughter–in–law.227 Vested and contingent remainders may be treated differently.228 The exemption of property bequeathed to charitable or educational institutions may be limited to those within the State.229 In computing the tax collectible from a nonresident decedent’s property within the State, a State may apply the pertinent rates to the whole estate wherever located and take that proportion thereof which the property within the State bears to the total; the fact that a greater tax may result than would be assessed on an equal amount of property if owned by a resident, does not invalidate the result.230

Motor Vehicle Taxes.—In demanding compensation for the use of highways, a State may exempt certain types of vehicles, according to the purpose for which they are used, from a mileage tax on carriers.231 A state maintenance tax act, which taxes vehicle property carriers for hire at greater rates than similar vehicles carrying property not for hire is reasonable, since the use of roads by one hauling not for hire generally is limited to transportation of his own property as an incident to his occupation and is substantially less than that of one engaged in business as a common carrier.232 A property tax on motor vehicles used in operating a stage line that makes constant and unusual use of the highways may be measured by gross receipts and be assessed at a higher rate than taxes on property not so employed.233 Common motor carriers of freight operating over regular routes between fixed termini may be[p.1827]taxed at higher rates than other carriers, common and private.234 A fee for the privilege of transporting motor vehicles on their own wheels over the highways of the State for purpose of sale does not violate the equal protection clause as applied to cars moving in caravans.235 The exemption from a tax for a permit to bring cars into the State in caravans of cars moved for sale between zones in the State is not an unconstitutional discrimination where it appears that the traffic subject to the tax places a much more serious burden on the highways than that which is exempt.236 Also sustained as valid have been exemptions of vehicles weighing less than 3000 pounds from graduated registration fees imposed on carriers for hire, notwithstanding that the exempt vehicles, when loaded, may outweigh those taxed;237 and exemptions from vehicle license taxes levied on private motor carriers of persons whose vehicles haul passengers and farm products between points not having railroad facilities or farm and dairy products for producers thereof.238

Property Taxes.—The State’s latitude of discretion is notably wide in the classification of property for purposes of taxation and the granting of partial or total exemption on the grounds of policy,239 whether the exemption results from the terms of the statute itself or the conduct of a state official implementing state policy.240 A provision for the forfeiture of land for nonpayment of taxes is not invalid because the conditions to which it applies exist only in a part of the State.241 Also, differences in the basis of assessment are not invalid where the person or property affected might properly be placed in a separate class for purposes of taxation.242 Early cases drew the distinction between intentional and systematic discriminatory action by state officials in undervaluing some property while taxing at full value other property in the same class—an action that could be invalidated under the equal protection clause—and mere errors in judgment resulting in unequal valuation or undervaluation—actions that did not support a claim of discrimina[p.1828]tion.243 More recently, however, the Court in Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Co. v. Webster County Commission,244 found a denial of equal protection to property owners whose assessments, based on recent purchase prices, ranged from 8 to 35 times higher than comparable neighboring property for which the assessor failed over a 10–year period to readjust appraisals. Then, only a few years later, the Court upheld a California ballot initiative that imposed a quite similar result: property that is sold is appraised at purchase price, while assessments on property that has stayed in the same hands since 1976 may rise no more that 2% per year.245 Allegheny Pittsburgh was distinguished, the disparity in assessments being said to result from administrative failure to implement state policy rather than from implementation of a coherent state policy.246 California’s acquisition–value system favoring those who hold on to property over those who purchase and sell property was viewed as furthering rational state interests in promoting “local neighborhood preservation, continuity, and stability,” and in protecting reasonable reliance interests of existing homeowners.247

An owner aggrieved by discrimination is entitled to have his assessment reduced to the common level.248 Equal protection is denied if a State does not itself remove the discrimination; it cannot impose upon the person against whom the discrimination is directed the burden of seeking an upward revision of the assessment of other members of the class.249 A corporation whose valuations were accepted by the assessing commission cannot complain that it was taxed disproportionately, as compared with others, if the commission did not act fraudulently.250

Special Assessment.—A special assessment is not discriminatory because apportioned on an ad valorem basis, nor does its validity depend upon the receipt of some special benefit as distinguished from the general benefit to the community.251 Railroad property may not be burdened for local improvements upon a basis so wholly different from that used for ascertaining the contribution demanded of individual owners as necessarily to produce manifest[p.1829]inequality.252 A special highway assessment against railroads based on real property, rolling stock, and other personal property is unjustly discriminatory when other assessments for the same improvement are based on real property alone.253 A law requiring the franchise of a railroad to be considered in valuing its property for apportionment of a special assessment is not invalid where the franchises were not added as a separate personal property value to the assessment of the real property.254 In taxing railroads within a levee district on a mileage basis, it is not necessarily arbitrary to fix a lower rate per mile for those having less than 25 miles of main line within the district than for those having more.255


Footnotes

225 Magoun v. Illinois Trust & Savings Bank, 170 U.S. 283, 288, 300 (1898) .
226 Billings v. Illinois, 188 U.S. 97 (1903) .
227 Campbell v. California, 200 U.S. 87 (1906) .
228 Salomon v. State Tax Comm’n, 278 U.S. 484 (1929) .
229 Board of Educ. v. Illinois, 203 U.S. 553 (1906) .
230 Maxwell v. Bugbee, 250 U.S. 525 (1919) .
231 Continental Baking Co. v. Woodring, 286 U.S. 352 (1932) .
232 Dixie Ohio Express Co. v. State Revenue Comm’n, 306 U.S. 72, 78 (1939) .
233 Alward v. Johnson, 282 U.S. 509 (1931) .
234 Bekins Van Lines v. Riley, 280 U.S. 80 (1929) .
235 Morf v. Bingaman, 298 U.S. 407 (1936) .
236 Clark v. Paul Gray, Inc., 306 U.S. 583 (1939) .
237 Carley & Hamilton v. Snook, 281 U.S. 66 (1930) .
238 Aero Mayflower Transit Co. v. Georgia Public Serv. Comm’n, 295 U.S. 285 (1935) .
239 F.S. Royster Guano Co. v. Virginia, 253 U.S. 412, 415 (1920) .
240 Missouri v. Dockery, 191 U.S. 165 (1903) .
241 Kentucky Union Co. v. Kentucky, 219 U.S. 140, 161 (1911) .
242 Charleston Fed. S. & L. Ass’n v. Alderson, 324 U.S. 182 (1945) ; Nashville C. & St. L. Ry. v. Browning, 310 U.S. 362 (1940) .
243 Sunday Lake Iron Co. v. Wakefield, 247 U.S. 350 (1918) ; Raymond v. Chicago Traction Co., 207 U.S. 20, 35, 37 (1907) ; Coutler v. Louisville & Nashville R.R., 196 U.S. 599 (1905) . See also Chicago, B. & Q. Ry. v. Babcock, 204 U.S. 585 (1907) .
244 488 U.S. 336 (1989) .
245 Nordlinger v. Hahn, 112 Ct. 2326 (1992).
246 Id. at 2334–35.
247 Id. at 2333.
248 Sioux City Bridge v. Dakota County, 260 U.S. 441, 446 (1923) .
249 Hillsborough v. Cromwell, 326 U.S. 620, 623 (1946) ; Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Co. v. Webster County Comm’n, 488 U.S. 336 (1989) .
250 St. Louis–San Francisco Ry v. Middlekamp, 256 U.S. 226, 230 (1921) .
251 Memphis & Charleston Ry. v. Pace, 282 U.S. 241 (1931) .
252 Kansas City So. Ry. v. Road Imp. Dist. No. 6, 256 U.S. 658 (1921) ; Thomas v. Kansas City So. Ry., 261 U.S. 481 (1923) .
253 Road Imp. Dist. v. Missouri Pacific R.R., 274 U.S. 188 (1927) .
254 Branson v. Bush, 251 U.S. 182 (1919) .
255 Columbus & Greenville Ry. v. Miller, 283 U.S. 96 (1931) .
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