Singling out One Medium for Taxation Allowable: U.S. Supreme Court Rules 7-2 It Does Not Violate the First Amendment

By Gersh, Debra | Editor & Publisher, May 4, 1991 | Go to article overview

Singling out One Medium for Taxation Allowable: U.S. Supreme Court Rules 7-2 It Does Not Violate the First Amendment


Gersh, Debra, Editor & Publisher


Singling out one medium for taxation allowable

Singling out one medium for taxation while exempting others does not violate the First Amendment, as long as the taxation is neither censorial nor discriminatory, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently.

The 7-2 majority decision in Leathers, Commissioner of Revenues of Arkansas, v. Medlock determined that an Arkansas tax on cable television was not unconstitutional as it is part of a state general services tax. Other media are exempt from the tax.

The dissenting justices, however, found that singling out one medium for taxation leaves open the potential for governmental abuses.

The Leathers decision had repercussions for the newspaper industry beyond Arkansas, however, as the Court also acted on similar cases before it from other states.

A few days after the Leathers decision, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that upheld a tax on magazines while exempting newspapers.

The Court also vacated a Florida Supreme Court decision that disallowed the distinction between magazines tax, however, the Florida court nullified the newspapers' exemption. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the decision and ordered the Florida court to re-examine the case in light of the Leathers ruling.

"I think this is a pretty significant decision," National Newspaper Association general counsel Robert J. Brinkmann said of the Leathers ruling, adding it is particularly good for smaller newspapers.

"People can still tax newspapers if they want, but if they don't, it's OK," he said.

The decision also leaves in place protections for smaller newspapers. Part of the majority decision found that one measure for determining whether a tax is discriminatory is whether it involves a large number of media outlets or only a few, the latter not being allowed.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the majority in the Leathers decision, noted that previous U.S. Supreme Court cases "establish that differential taxation of speakers, even members of the press, does not implicate the First Amendment unless the tax is directed at, or presents the danger of suppressing, particular ideas."

"The Arkansas sales tax is a tax of general applicability," she wrote. "It applies to receipts from the sale of all tangible personal property and a broad range of services, unless within a group of specific exemptions . . . .

"The tax does not single out the press and does not therefore threaten to hinder the press as a watchdog of government activity . . . . We have said repeatedly that a state may impose on the press a generally applicable tax . . . .

"Futhermore, there is no indication in this case that Arkansas has targeted cable television in a purposeful attempt to interfere with its First Amendment activities. Nor is the tax one that is structured so as to raise suspicion that it was intended to do so," the Court majority found.

She noted that "The danger from a tax scheme that targets a small number of speakers is the danger of censorship; a tax on a small number of speakers runs the risk of affecting only a limited range of views. The risk is similar to that from content-based regulations: it will distort the market for ideas . . . . There is no comparable danger from a tax on services provided by a large number of cable operators offering a wide variety of programming throughout the state . . . .

"The Arkansas Legislature has chosen simply to exclude or exempt certain media from a generally applicable tax. Nothing about that choice has ever suggested an interest in censoring the expressive activities of cable television. Nor does anything in this record indicate that Arkansas' broad-based, content-neutral sales tax is likely to stifle the free exchange of ideas.

"We conclude that the state's extension of its generally applicable sales tax to cable television services alone, or to cable and satellite services, while exempting the print media, does not violate the First Amendment . …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Singling out One Medium for Taxation Allowable: U.S. Supreme Court Rules 7-2 It Does Not Violate the First Amendment
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.