Head Money Cases
Annotate this Case
112 U.S. 580 (1884)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Head Money Cases, 112 U.S. 580 (1884)
Head Money Cases
Argued November 19, 20, 1884
Decided December 8, 1884
112 U.S. 580
The act of Congress of August 8, 1882, "to regulate immigration," which imposes upon the owners of steam or sailing vessels who shall bring passengers from a foreign port into a port of the United States, a duty of fifty
cents for every such passenger not a citizen of this country, is a valid exercise of the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations.
Though the previous cases in this court on that subject related to State statutes only, they held those statutes void on the ground that authority to enact them was vested exclusively in Congress by the Constitution, and necessarily decided that, when Congress did pass such a statute, which it has done in this case, it would be valid.
The contribution levied on the ship owner by this statue is designed to mitigate the evils incident to immigration from abroad by raising a fund for that purpose, and it is not, in the sense of the Constitution, a tax subject to the limitations imposed by that instrument on the general taxing power of Congress.
A tax is uniform, within the meaning of the constitutional provision on that subject, when it operates with the same effect in all places where the subject of it is found, and is not wanting in such uniformity because the thing taxed is not equally distributed in all parts of the United States.
A treaty is primarily a compact between independent nations, and depends for the enforcement of its provisions on the honor and the interest of the governments which are parties to it. If these fail, its infraction becomes the subject of international reclamation and negotiation, which may lead to war to enforce them. With this, judicial courts have nothing to do.
But a treaty may also confer private rights on citizens or subjects of the contracting powers which are of a nature to be enforced in n court of justice, and which, in cases otherwise cognizable in such courts, furnish rules of decision. The Constitution of the United States makes the treaty, while in force, a part of the supreme law of the land in all courts where such rights are to be tried.
But in this respect, so far as the provisions of a treaty can become the subject of judicial cognizance in the courts of the country, they are subject to such acts as Congress may pass for their enforcement, modification, or repeal.
These suits were brought to recover back sums collected at various times as duties on immigrants arriving in the United States, under the provision of the act of August 3, 1882, 23 Stat. 21,
"that there shall be levied, collected, and paid a duty of fifty cents for each and every passenger not a citizen of the United States, who shall come by steam or sail vessel from a foreign port to any port within the United States."
Protests were filed against each payment, and all other steps required as foundations for the actions were taken. In the Edye Case, there was a trial, jury being waived, a finding of facts, a judgment, and exceptions. 18 Fed.Rep. 13. In the Cunard Cases, judgment was entered in favor of the collector
on demurrer to the complaints. The causes were brought here on writs of error.