American Constitutional Law: Introductory Essays & Selected Cases

By Alpheus Thomas Mason; William M. Beaney | Go to book overview

Collector v. Day

11 Wall. 113, 20 L.Ed. 122 ( 1871)

Various statutes passed by Congress in 1864 imposed a five per cent personal income tax on all incomes over $1000. Day, a county judge in Massachusetts, paid the tax under protest and then brought suit in the Circuit Court to recover the amount paid. From a judgment in Day's favor, the United States sought review by a writ of error.

MR. JUSTICE NELSON delivered the opinion of the court.

The case presents the question whether or not it is competent for Congress, under the Constitution of the United States, to impose a tax upon the salary of a judicial officer of a State?

In Dobbins v. The Commissioners of Erie County, 16 Pet. 435, it was decided that it was not competent for the legislature of a State to levy a tax upon the salary or emoluments of an officer of the United States. The decision was placed mainly upon the ground that the officer was a means or instrumentality employed for carrying into effect some of the legitimate powers of the government, which could not be interfered with by taxation or otherwise by the States, and that the salary or compensation for the service of the officer was inseparably connected with the office; that if the officer, as such was exempt, the salary assigned for his support or maintenance while holding the office was also, for like reasons, equally exempt. . . .

It is conceded in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland, that the power of taxation by the States was not abridged by the grant of a similar power to the government of the Union; that it was retained by the States, and that the power is to be concurrently exercised by the two governments; and also that there is no express constitutional prohibition upon the States against taxing the means or instrumentalities of the general government. But it was held, and we agree properly held, to be prohibited by necessary implication; otherwise, the States might impose taxation to an extent that would impair, if not wholly defeat, the operations of the Federal authorities when acting in their appropriate sphere.

These views, we think, abundantly establish the soundness of the decision of the case of Dobbins v. The Commissioners of Erie, supra, which determined that the States were prohibited, upon a proper construction of the Constitution, from taxing the salary or emoluments of an officer of the government of the United States. And we shall now proceed to show that, upon the same construction of that instrument, and for like reasons, that government is prohibited from taxing the salary of the judicial officer of a State.

It is a familiar rule of construction of the Constitution of the Union, that the sovereign powers vested in the State governments by their respective constitutions remained unaltered and unimpaired, except so far as they were granted to the government of the United States. That the intention of the framers of the Constitution in this respect might not be misunderstood, this

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