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ArtI.S8.C1.1.1 Overview of Taxing Clause

Article I, Section 8, Clause 1:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States; . . .

Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constitution provides Congress with broad authority to lay and collect taxes for federal debts, the common defense, and the general welfare.1 By the Constitution’s terms, the power of Congress to levy taxes is subject to but “one exception and only two qualifications.” 2 Articles exported from any state may not be taxed at all,3 direct taxes must be levied by the rule of apportionment,4 and indirect taxes by the rule of uniformity.5 The Supreme Court has emphasized the sweeping character of this power by saying from time to time that it “reaches every subject,” 6 that it is “exhaustive” 7 or that it “embraces every conceivable power of taxation.” 8 Despite few express limitations on the taxing power, the scope of Congress’s taxing power has been at times substantially curtailed by judicial decisions with respect to the manner in which taxes are imposed,9 the objects for which they may be levied,10 and the subject matter of taxation.11

See Nicol v. Ames, 173 U.S. 509, 514–16 (1899); 3 Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States 368–69 (1833); The Federalist No. 41 (James Madison). back
License Tax Cases, 72 U.S. (5 Wall.) 462, 471 (1866). back
U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 5. back
Id. art. I, § 9, cl. 4. back
Id. art. I, § 8, cl. 1. back
License Tax Cases, 72 U.S. (5 Wall.) at 471. back
Brushaber v. Union Pac. R.R., 240 U.S. 1, 12 (1916). back
Id. back
See, e.g., Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co. (Child Labor Tax Case), 259 U.S. 20, 36–37 (1922). back
See, e.g., United States v. Constantine, 296 U.S. 287, 293–94 (1935). back
See, e.g., Collector v. Day, 78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 113, 120–21 (1871), overruled by Graves v. New York ex rel. O’Keefe, 306 U.S. 466 (1939). back