311 U.S. 454, 61 S.Ct. 334, 85 L.Ed. 275 ( 1940)
This case involved a state tax on certain out-of-state Persons who carried on business within North Carolina. The Supreme Court of North Carolina upheld the tax. The Best Company appealed.
MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.
Appellant, a New York retail merchandise establishment, rented a display room in a North Carolina hotel for several days during February, 1938, and took orders for goods corresponding to samples; it filled the orders by shipping direct to the customers from New York City. Before using the room appellant paid under protest the tax required by . . . the North Carolina Laws of 1937, which levies an annual privilege tax of $250 on every person or corporation, not a regular retail merchant in the state, who displays samples in any hotel room rented or occupied temporarily for the purpose of securing retail orders. Appellant not being a regular retail merchant of North Carolina admittedly comes within the statute. Asserting, however, that the tax was unconstitutional, especially in view of the commerce clause, it brought this suit for a refund and succeeded in the trial court. The Supreme Court of North Carolina reversed and then, being evenly divided on rehearing, allowed the reversal to stand. The prevailing opinion characterized the tax as one on the commercial use of temporary quarters, which in its operation did not discriminate against interstate commerce and therefore did not come into conflict with the commerce clause.
The commerce clause forbids discrimination, whether forthright or ingenious. In each case it is our duty to determine whether the statute under attack, whatever its name may be, will in its practical operation work discrimination against interstate commerce. This standard we think condemns the tax at bar. Nominally the statute taxes all who are not regular retail merchants in North Carolina, regardless of whether they are residents or non-residents. We must assume, however, on this record that those North Carolina residents competing with appellant for the sale of similar merchandise will normally be regular retail merchants. The retail stores of the state are the natural outlets for merchandise, not those who sell only by sample. Some of these local shops may, like appellant, rent temporary display rooms in sections of North Carolina where they have no permanent store, but even these escape the tax at bar because the location of their central retail store somewhere within the state will qualify them as "regular retail merchants in the State of North Carolina." The only corresponding fixed-sum license tax to which appellant's real competitors are subject is a tax of $1 per annum for the privilege of doing business. Nonresidents wishing to display their wares must either establish themselves as regular North Carolina retail merchants at prohibitive expense, or else pay this $250