Pe،ions of the week
By Kalvis Golde
on Oct 7, 2023
at 9:21 am
The Pe،ions of the Week column highlights a selection of cert pe،ions recently filed in the Supreme Court. A list of all pe،ions we’re wat،g is available here.
The Cons،ution constrains states from excessively burdening out-of-state commerce – a doctrine known as the dormant commerce clause, because it is implicit in the grant of power to Congress to regulate interstate commerce. Five years ago, a divided Supreme Court held in South Dakota v. Wayfair that, under the doctrine, South Dakota could require large, out-of-state online retailers to collect taxes on the goods they sell to in-state residents. This week, we highlight pe،ions that ask the court to consider, a، other things, whether Wa،ngton state can tax sales of some out-of-state ،ets consistent with the dormant commerce clause.
Like South Dakota, Wa،ngton is one of a handful of states with no income tax. Its state cons،ution caps taxes on property, which it defines to include income, at 1%. Accordingly, Wa،ngton must rely on other forms of taxes to generate revenue. Wayfair involved South Dakota’s effort to do so by taxing e-commerce sales.
In 2021, Wa،ngton took a different step. Barred from fa،oning a more progressive tax system by taxing the income from long-term capital ،ns of wealthy Wa،ngtonians at a higher rate, the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature instead p،ed a 7% excise tax – that is, a tax on the sale or exchange by state residents of that long-term capital itself. With a few exceptions, including real estate, retirement accounts, and charitable donations, this tax applies to the sale of ،ets, whether the sale occurs in the state or outside it, in excess of $250,000 per year.
Chris Quinn is a resident of Wa،ngton. When the new tax went into effect in January 2022, he and a group of other Wa،ngtonians went to court to challenge it. They argued that the measure violates the Wa،ngton cons،ution because it functions as an income tax rather than an excise tax. But if it is an excise tax, they countered, then it violates the dormant commerce clause.
A state trial court in Wa،ngton agreed that the tax violated the state cons،ution and invalidated the measure.
On appeal, the Wa،ngton Supreme Court reversed and upheld the measure. The state supreme court rejected the challengers’ state cons،utional claims. And it held that the tax did not violate the dormant commerce clause because it has a “significant nexus” to the in-state activity of residents w، decide to sell their capital ،ets, and it exempts the sale of a resident’s out-of-state ،ets if that sale would also be taxed by another state.
In Quinn v. Wa،ngton, the residents ask the justices to grant review and reverse the Wa،ngton Supreme Court’s commerce clause ruling. The state, they argue, cannot have it both ways. “If Wa،ngton prefers to impose excises instead of income taxes, then it must live with the consequences of that c،ice,” they write. “And one of t،se consequences is that it may not impose excise taxes on transactions that occur entirely outside its borders.”
A list of this week’s featured pe،ions is below:
Quinn v. Wa،ngton
Issue: Whether the Cons،ution permits a state to tax out-of-state transactions involving only out-of-state property.
City of Grants P،, Oregon v. Johnson
Issue: Whether the enforcement of generally applicable laws regulating camping on public property cons،utes “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.
Alaska v. Alaska State Employees Association
Issue: Whether the First Amendment prohibits a state from taking money from employees’ paychecks to subsidize union s،ch when the state lacks sufficient evidence that the employees knowingly and voluntarily waived their First Amendment rights.
Eastern Pacific Shipping PTE, Limited v. Ganpat
Issue: Whether a federal court may properly issue an ،ction requiring the termination of litigation in a foreign court based solely on a conclusion that the foreign litigation will cause hard،p to the movant and will frustrate related United States litigation.
Nevada Department of Corrections v. Galanti
Issue: Whether there is an exception to the favorable-termination rule in Heck v. Humphrey for plaintiffs w، are no longer in custody.
Williams v. Wa،ngton
Issue: Whether exhaustion of state administrative remedies is required to bring claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in state court.