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United States Supreme Court

75 U.S. 148

Hinson  v.  Lott

THE case was this: With the same provisions of the Constitution as are quoted in the last case in force (supra, p. 123) the State of Alabama passed a statute, approved February 22d, 1866, which, by its 13th section, enacted:

'Before it shall be lawful for any dealer or dealers in spirituous liquors to offer any such liquors for sale within the limits of this State, such dealer or dealers introducing any such liquors into the State for sale shall first pay the tax-collector of the county into which such liquors are introduced, a tax of fifty cents per gallon upon each and every gallon thereof.'

Two subsequent sections, the 14th and 15th, provided the mode of enforcing the collection of the tax thus imposed.

Previous sections of the statute, it ought to be mentioned, laid a tax of fifty cents per gallon on all whiskey and all brandy from fruits manufactured in the State, and in order to collect this tax, enacted that every distiller should take out a license and make regular returns of the amount of distilled spirits manufactured by him. On this he was to pay the fifty cents per gallon.

With this statute in force, Hinson, a merchant of Mobile, filed a bill against the tax-collector for the city of Mobile, and State of Alabama, in which he set forth that he had on hand five barrels of whiskey consigned to him by one Dexter, of the State of Ohio, to be sold on account of the latter in the State of Alabama, and that he had five other barrels, purchased by himself in the State of Louisiana, and that he had brandy and wine imported from abroad (upon which he had paid the import duties laid by the United States, at the custom-house at Mobile), all of which liquors he now held and was offering for sale in the same packages in which they were imported, and not otherwise; that the tax-collector was about to enforce the collection of State and county taxes on the said liquors, for which he set up the authority of the 13th, 14th and 15th sections of the already quoted act of the Alabama legislature. Hinson insisted that this act was void as being in conflict with the Constitution of the United States, and prayed an injunction. The defendant demurred.

On final hearing, in the Supreme Court of Alabama, that court gave an elaborate opinion. Referring to the clause of the Constitution, which says, that 'Congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States,' it admitted that opinions were to be found in the reports of the Federal courts that the power was exclusive; but that the better opinions were otherwise; and while, if Congress exercised this power, all conflicting legislation would give way, yet, subject to the superior power in Congress, the States might legislate. It proceeded:

'There is no act of Congress with which a State tax upon liquor, introduced from other States, can interfere, and, therefore, it is permissible for the State to impose a tax upon the sale of liquor introduced from another State. Such a tax is not only constitutional, but it is obviously just and proper, for a tax to the same extent is imposed upon liquor manufactured in the State.

'It is admitted that the law under consideration is broad enough to apply to liquors imported from foreign countries, but it is void only so far as it is in collision with the acts of Congress on that subject.'

Accordingly, the relief prayed was granted as to all but the State tax, and relief as to that was granted as to goods imported from abroad, but the State tax of fifty cents per gallon on the whiskey of Dexter, of Ohio, and that purchased by plaintiff in Louisiana was held to be valid.

The case was now here for review. And was argued (like the last one, though being after it, less fully) by Mr. J. A. Campbell, for the plaintiff in error, and by Mr. P. Phillips, contra: little reference being made to other sections of the statute than the 13th.

Mr. Campbell contended that this 13th section of the act in question was a plain violation of the Constitution; as well of that provision of it which says that 'no State shall levy any imposts on imports,' as of that other which declares 'that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the immunities and privileges of citizens of the several States.' Moreover, the State act regulated inter-state commerce.

Mr. Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court


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).