American Constitutional Law: Introductory Essays & Selected Cases

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

gressional action, the States may continue to regulate matters of local interest only incidentally affecting foreign and inter-State commerce, such as pilots, wharves, harbors, roads, bridges, tolls, freights, etc., still, according to the rule laid down in Cooley v. Board of Wardens of Philadelphia . . . the power of Congress is exclusive wherever the matter is national in its character or admits of one uniform system or plan of regulation; and is certainly so far exclusive that no State has power to make any law or regulation which will affect the free and unrestrained intercourse and trade between the States, as Congress has left it, or which will impose any discriminating burden or tax upon the citizens or products of other States, coming or brought within its jurisdiction. All laws and regulations are restrictive of natural freedom to some extent, and where no regulation is imposed by the government which has the exclusive power to regulate, it is an indication of its will that the matter shall be left free. So long as Congress does not pass any law to regulate commerce among the several States, it thereby indicates its will that that commerce shall be free and untrammelled; and any regulation of the subject by the State is repugnant to such freedom. . . . It may be laid down as the settled doctrine of this court, at this day, that a State can no more regulate or impede commerce among the several States than it can regulate or impede commerce with foreign nations.

This being the recognized law, the question then arises whether the assessment of the tax in question amounted to any interference with, or restriction upon the free introduction of the plaintiffs' coal from the State of Pennsylvania into the State of Louisiana, and the free disposal of the same in commerce in the latter State; in other words, whether the tax amounted to a regulation of, or restriction upon, commerce among the States; or only to an exercise of local administration under the general taxing power, which, though it may incidentally affect the subjects of commerce, is entirely within the power of the State until Congress shall see fit to interfere and make express regulations on the subject.

As to the character and mode of the assessment, little need be added to what has already been said. It was not a tax imposed upon the coal as a foreign product, or as the product of another State than Louisiana, nor a tax imposed by reason of the coal being imported or brought into Louisiana, nor a tax imposed whilst it was in a state of transit through that State to some other place of destination. It was imposed after the coal had arrived at its destination and was put up for sale. The coal had come to its place of rest, for final disposal or use, and was a commodity in the market of New Orleans. It might continue in that condition for a year or two years, or only for a day. It had become a part of the general mass of property in the state, and as such it was taxed for the current year ( 1880), as all other property in the City of New Orleans was taxed. Under the law, it could not be taxed again until the following year. It was subjected to no discrimination in favor of goods which were the product of Louisiana, or goods which were the property of citizens of Louisiana. It was treated in exactly the same manner as such goods were treated.

It cannot be seriously contended, at least in the absence of any Congressional legislation to the contrary, that all goods which are the product of other States are to be free from taxation in the State to which they may be carried for use or sale. . . . The taxing of goods from other States, as such, or by reason of their so coming, would be a discriminating tax against them as imports, and would be a regulation of inter-State commerce, in

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