Michelin Tire Corp. v. Wages - 423 U.S. 276 (1976)
U.S. Supreme Court
Michelin Tire Corp. v. Wages, 423 U.S. 276 (1976)
Michelin Tire Corp. v. Wages
Argued October 15, 1975 -- Decided January 14, 1976
423 U.S. 276
Georgia's assessment of a nondiscriminatory ad valorem property tax against petitioner's inventory of imported tires maintained at its wholesale distribution warehouse in the State held not to be within the Import-Export Clause's prohibition against States laying "any Imposts or Duties on Imports." Low v. Austin, 13 Wall. 29, overruled. Pp. 423 U. S. 281-302.
(a) In the history of the Import-Export Clause, whose purposes were to commit to the Federal Government the exclusive power to regulate foreign commerce and the exclusive right to all revenues from imposts and duties on imports, and to assure the free flow of imported goods among the States by prohibiting the taxing of goods merely flowing through seaboard States to other States, there is nothing to suggest that a nondiscriminatory ad valorem property tax imposed on imported goods that are no longer in import transit was the type of exaction that was regarded as objectionable by the Framers of the Constitution. Pp. 423 U. S. 283-286.
(b) Such nondiscriminatory property taxation cannot affect the Federal Government's exclusive regulation of foreign commerce, since such a tax does not fall on imports as such because of their place of origin, and it cannot be used to create special protective tariffs or particular preferences for certain domestic goods or be applied selectively to encourage or discourage any importation in a manner inconsistent with federal regulation. P. 423 U. S. 286.
(c) Nor will such taxation deprive the Federal Government of its exclusive right to all revenues from imposts and duties on imports, since that right, by definition, only extends to revenues from exactions of a particular category. Unlike imposts and duties, which are essentially taxes on the commercial privilege of bringing goods into a country, such property taxes are taxes by which a State apportions the cost of such services as police and fire protection among the beneficiaries according to their respective wealth, and there is no reason why an importer should not share
these costs with his competitors handling domestic goods. Pp. 423 U. S. 286-288.
(d) Nor does such nondiscriminatory property taxation interfere with the free flow of imported goods among the States. Importers of goods destined for inland States can easily avoid such taxes by using modern transportation methods, and to the extent such taxation may increase the cost of goods purchased by "inland" consumers, the cost, which is the quid pro quo for benefits actually conferred by the taxing State, is one that ultimate consumers should pay for. The prevention of exactions that are no more than transit fees that could otherwise be imposed due to the peculiar geographical situation of certain States may be secured by prohibiting the assessment of even nondiscriminatory property taxes on goods that are still in import transit. Pp. 423 U. S. 288-290.
(e) The Import-Export Clause, while not in terms excepting nondiscriminatory taxes with some impact on imports or exports, is not couched in terms of a broad prohibition of every "tax," but only prohibits States from laying "Imposts or Duties," which historically connoted exactions directed only at imports or commercial activity as such. Pp. 423 U. S. 290-293.
(f) Since prohibition of nondiscriminatory ad valorem property taxation would not further the objectives of the Import-Export Clause, only the clearest constitutional mandate should lead to a condemnation of such taxation, and the Clause's terminology -- "Imposts or Duties" -- is sufficiently ambiguous as not to warrant a presumption that it was intended to embrace taxation that does not create the evils the Clause was specifically intended to eliminate. Pp. 423 U. S. 293-294.
233 Ga. 712, 214 S.E.2d 349, affirmed.
BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 423 U. S. 302. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.