Uniformity Requirement.

Whether a tax is to be appor- tioned among the states according to the census taken pursuant to Article I, § 2, or imposed uniformly throughout the United States depends upon its classification as direct or indirect.572 The rule of uniformity for indirect taxes is easy to obey. It requires only that the subject matter of a levy be taxed at the same rate wherever found in the United States; or, as it is sometimes phrased, the uniformity required is “geographical,” not “intrinsic.”573 Even the geographical limitation is a loose one, at least if one follows United States v. Ptasynski,574 in which the Court upheld an exemption from a crude-oil windfall-profits tax of “Alaskan oil,” defined geographically to include oil produced in Alaska (or elsewhere) north of the Arctic Circle. What is prohibited, the Court said, is favoritism to particular states in the absence of valid bases of classification. Because Congress could have achieved the same result, allowing for severe climactic difficulties, through a classification tailored to the “disproportionate costs and difficulties . . . associated with extracting oil from this region,”575 the fact that Congress described the exemption in geographic terms did not condemn the provision.

The clause accordingly places no obstacle in the way of legislative classification for the purpose of taxation, nor in the way of what is called progressive taxation.576 A taxing statute does not fail of the prescribed uniformity because its operation and incidence may be affected by differences in state laws.577 A federal estate tax law that permitted deduction for a like tax paid to a state was not rendered invalid by the fact that one state levied no such tax.578 The term “United States” in this clause refers only to the states of the Union, the District of Columbia, and incorporated territories. Congress is not bound by the rule of uniformity in framing tax measures for unincorporated territories.579 Indeed, in Binns v. United States,580 the Court sustained license taxes imposed by Congress but applicable only in Alaska, where the proceeds, although paid into the general fund of the Treasury, did not in fact equal the total cost of maintaining the territorial government.

Footnotes

572
See also Article I, § 9, cl. 4. [Back to text]
573
LaBelle Iron Works v. United States, 256 U.S. 377 (1921); Brushaber v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 240 U.S. 1 (1916); Head Money Cases, 112 U.S. 580 (1884). [Back to text]
574
462 U.S. 74 (1983). [Back to text]
575
462 U.S. at 85. [Back to text]
576
Knowlton v. Moore, 178 U.S. 41 (1900). [Back to text]
577
Fernandez v. Wiener, 326 U.S. 340 (1945); Riggs v. Del Drago, 317 U.S. 95 (1942); Phillips v. Commissioner, 283 U.S. 589 (1931); Poe v. Seaborn, 282 U.S. 101, 117 (1930). [Back to text]
578
Florida v. Mellon, 273 U.S. 12 (1927). [Back to text]
579
Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244 (1901). [Back to text]
580
194 U.S. 486 (1904). The Court recognized that Alaska was an incorporated territory but took the position that the situation in substance was the same as if the taxes had been directly imposed by a territorial legislature for the support of the local government. [Back to text]