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United States Supreme Court

73 U.S. 35

Crandall  v.  Nevada

ERROR to the Supreme Court of Nevada.

In 1865, the legislature of Nevada enacted that 'there shall be levied and collected a capitation tax of one dollar upon every person leaving the State by any railroad, stage coach, or other vehicle engaged or employed in the business of transporting passengers for hire,' and that the proprietors, owners, and corporations so engaged should pay the said tax of one dollar for each and every person so conveyed or transported from the State. For the purpose of collecting the tax, another section required from persons engaged in such business, or their agents, a report every month, under oath, of the number of passengers so transported, and the payment of the tax to the sheriff or other proper officer.

With the statute in existence, Crandall, who was the agent of a stage company engaged in carrying passengers through the State of Nevada, was arrested for refusing to report the number of passengers that had been carried by the coaches of his company, and for refusing to pay the tax of one dollar imposed on each passenger by the law of that State. He pleaded that the law of the State under which he was prosecuted was void, because it was in conflict with the Constitution of the United States; and his plea being overruled, the case came into the Supreme Court of the State. The court-considering that the tax laid was not an impost on 'exports,' nor an interference with the power of Congress 'to regulate commerce among the several States'-decided against the right thus set up under the Federal Constitution.

Its judgment was now here for review.

No counsel appeared for the plaintiff in error, Crandall, nor was any brief filed in his behalf.

Mr. P. Phillips, who filed a brief for Mr. T. J. D. Fuller, for the State of Nevada:

The law in question is not in conflict with that clause of the Constitution of the United States, which provides that 'no State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports,' &c. Persons carried out of a State are not 'exports' within the meaning of this clause. An export is a 'thing exported,' not a person. [1]

Nor in conflict with the provision that 'Congress shall have power to regulate commerce among the several States,' &c. The grant of power here given to Congress has never yet been exercised by it. It has enacted no statute upon the subject of inter-state travel. And while thus dormant and not exercised by Congress, it does not deprive the several States of the power to regulate commerce among themselves, a power which confessedly belonged to them before the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. In all decided cases where analogous laws of the several States have been held unconstitutional, it has been because of their alleged conflict with laws actually enacted by Congress under the power given that body by the Constitution 'to regulate commerce with foreign nations and with Indian tribes.' In such case of course the State law must give way. [2]

In addition the law in question is not intended as a regulation of commerce among the States, but as a tax for the support of the State government. A law passed thus diverso intuitu does not become a regulation of commerce merely because in its operation it may bear indirectly upon commerce. [3]

The power of taxation, like the police power, is indispensable to the existence of a State government, and it has never been pretended that it is impaired by any clause of the Federal Constitution, except so far and in such respects as that instrument expressly prohibits it. To take away that power by inference would be to open the way for entire destruction of State government. [4]

Finally. The tax in question is not a poll-tax, nor can it be made so by being described by the law as a 'capitation tax.' It is not levied on, nor paid by the passenger himself; but it is paid by the common carrier, at the rate of so much for each passenger carried by him. It is strictly a tax on his business, graduated by the amount of such business, as are license taxes, which often are made to vary pro rata with the amount of business done by the person taking the license. Suppose that the State, after examining the affairs of this particular stage company, had found that it carried a thousand passengers per year, and without any reference to what they had observed, laid a tax of a thousand dollars a year on all stage companies engaged in business like that of Crandall. Would that tax be unconstitutional? The State makes roads. It keeps them in repair. It must in some way be paid in order to be able to do all this. And what difference does it make whether it be paid by a tax of one dollar on each passenger, or by the same sum collected at a toll-gate, or by a gross sum for a license?

Nor does the tax become a poll-tax by falling untimately upon the passengers carried, any more than does the tax upon liquors become a poll-tax because ultimately paid by him who drinks the liquor. It remains a tax upon the business, whoever pays it at last.

Mr. Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  Brown v. State of Maryland, 12 Wheaton, 438; City of New York v. Miln, 11 Peters, 136; License Cases, 5 Howard, 594.

^2  Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheaton, 200; Houston v. Moore, 5 Id. 21; Willson v. Blackbird Creek Marsh Company, 2 Peters, 252; Brown v. State of Maryland, 12 Wheaton, 448; License Cases, 5 Howard, 504, 574, 578, 579, 580-6; Ib. 607, 618, 619, 624-5.

^3  Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheaton, 201-4; City of New York v. Miln, 11 Peters, 102.

^4  Cases generally cited ante; McCulloch v. State of Maryland, 4 Wheaton, 316, 427-36.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).