Property Taxes

Overruling a line of prior decisions that it thought misinterpreted the language of Brown v. Maryland, the Court now holds that the clause does not prevent a state from levying a nondiscriminatory, ad valorem property tax upon goods that are no longer in import transit.2250 Thus, a company’s inventory of imported tires maintained at its whole distribution warehouse could be included in the state’s tax upon the entire inventory. The clause does not prohibit every “tax” with some impact upon imports or exports but reaches rather exactions directed only at imports or exports or commercial activity therein as such.2251


Michelin Tire Corp. v. Wages, 423 U.S. 276 (1976), overruling Low v. Austin, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 29 (1872), expressly, and, necessarily, Hooven & Allison Co. v. Evatt, 324 U.S. 652 (1945), among others. The latter case was expressly overruled in Limbach v. Hooven & Allison Co., 466 U.S. 353 (1984), involving the same tax and the same parties. In Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Bowers, 358 U.S. 534 (1959), property taxes were sustained on the basis that the materials taxed had lost their character as imports. On exports, see Selliger v. Kentucky, 213 U.S. 200 (1909) (property tax levied on warehouse receipts for whiskey exported to Germany invalid). See also Itel Containers Int’l Corp. v. Huddleston, 507 U.S. 60, 76–78 (1993), and see id. at 81–82 (Justice Scalia concurring). back
Michelin Tire Corp. v. Wages, 423 U.S. 276, 290–94 (1976). Accord, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Durham County, 479 U.S. 130 (1986) (tax on imported tobacco stored for aging in customs-bonded warehouse and destined for domestic manufacture and sale); but cf. Xerox Corp. v. County of Harris, 459 U.S. 145, 154 (1982) (similar tax on goods stored in customs-bonded warehouse is preempted “by Congress’s comprehensive regulation of customs duties;” case, however, dealt with goods stored for export). back