Speiser v. Randall/Dissent Clark

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United States Supreme Court

357 U.S. 513

Speiser  v.  Randall

Mr. Justice CLARK, dissenting.

The decision of the Court turns on a construction of California law which regards the filing of the California tax oath as introductory, not conclusive, in nature. Hence, once the oath is filed, it may be 'accepted or rejected on the basis of incompetent information or no information at all.' And the filing is 'only a step in a process throughout which the taxpayer must bear the burden of proof.'

No California case, least of all the present one, compels such an understanding of § 32 of the California Revenue and Taxation Code. Neither appellant here filed the required oath, so the procedural skeleton of this case is not enlightening. If anything, the opinion of the state court indicates that the filing, whether the oath be true or false, would conclusively establish the taxpayer's eligibility for an exemption. Thus, in explaining the effect of § 32, the California court stated:

'For the obvious purpose, among others, of avoiding litigation, the Legislature, throughout the years has sought to relieve the assessor of the burden, on his own initiative and at the public expense, of ascertaining the facts with reference to tax exemption claimants. In addition to the means heretofore and otherwise provided by law the Legislature, with special reference to the implementation of section 19 of article XX, has enacted section 32. That section provides a direct, time saving and relatively inexpensive method of ascertaining the facts.' (Emphasis added.) 48 Cal.2d 419, 432, 311 P. 508, 515-516.

Moreover, the recourse of the State in the event a false oath is filed is expressly provided by § 32: 'Any person or organization who makes such declaration knowing it to be false is guilty of a felony.' The majority relies heavily on the duty of the assessor to '(investigate) the facts underlying all tax liabilities,' as well as his subpoena power incident thereto under § 454 of the California Tax Code. But the California court adverts to those matters only under a hypothetical state of facts, namely, in the absence of the aid provided by § 32. 48 Cal.2d, at pages 430-432, 311 P.2d at page 515. The essential point is that, whatever the assessor's duty, § 32 provides for its discharge on the basis of the declarations alone.

On the other hand, if it be thought that the Supreme Court of California is ambiguous on this matter, then it is well established that our duty is to so construe the state oath as to avoid conflict with constitutional guarantees of due process. Garner v. Board of Public Works, 1951, 341 U.S. 716, 723-724, 71 S.Ct. 909, 914-915, 95 L.Ed. 1317; Gerende v. Board of Supervisors of Elections, 1951, 341 U.S. 56, 71 S.Ct. 565, 95 L.Ed. 745. Two years ago we construed filing of the non-Communist affidavit required by § 9(h) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 159(h), as being conclusive in character, holding that the criminal sanction provided in that section was the exclusive remedy for the filing of a false affidavit. Leedom v. International Union of Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers, 1956, 352 U.S. 145, 77 S.Ct. 154, 1 L.Ed.2d 201. That Act bars issuance of a complaint or conducting an investigation upon the application of a union unless the prescribed non-Communist affidavit is filed by each officer of the union. Article XX, § 19, of the California Constitution expressly prohibits a tax exemption to any person or organization that advocates violent overthrow of either the California or the United States Governments, or advocates the support of a foreign government against the United States in the event of hostilities, and provides for legislative implementation thereof. By § 32 the California Legislature has required only the filing of the affidavit. The terms of § 9(h) of the National Labor Relations Act and § 32 of the California Tax Code, therefore, establish identical procedures. That identity points up the inappropriateness of the Court's construction of § 32.

Even if the Court's interpretation of California law is correct, I cannot agree that due process requires California to bear the burden of proof under the circumstances of this case. This is not a criminal proceeding. Neither fine nor imprisonment is involved. So far as Art. XX, § 19, of the California Constitution and § 32 of the California Tax Code are concerned, appellants are free to speak as they wish, to advocate what they will. If they advocate the violent and forceful overthrow of the California Government, California will take no action against them under the tax provisions here in question. But it will refuse to take any action for them, in the sense of extending to them the legislative largesse that is inherent in the granting of any tax exemption or deduction. In the view of the California court, 'An exemption from taxation is the exception and the unusual. * * * It is a bounty or gratuity on the part of the sovereign and when once granted may be withdrawn.' 48 Cal.2d, at page 426, 311 P.2d at page 512. The power of the sovereign to attach conditions to its bounty is firmly established under the Due Process Clause. Cf. Ivanhoe Irrigation District v. McCracken, 1958, 357 U.S. 275, 78 S.Ct. 1174. Traditionally, the burden of qualifying rests upon the one seeking the grace of the State. The majority suggests that traditional procedures are inadequate when 'a person is to suffer a penalty for a crime.' But California's action here, declining to extend the grace of the State to appellants, can in no proper sense be regarded as a 'penalty.' The case cited by the majority, Lipke v. Lederer, 1922, 259 U.S. 557, 42 S.Ct. 549, 66 L.Ed. 1061, involves an altogether different matter, imposition of a special tax upon one who engaged in certain illegal conduct, by a statute that described the levy as a 'tax or penalty.' (Emphasis added.) 259 U.S. at page 561, 42 S.Ct. at page 550.

The majority, however, would require that California bear the burden of proof under the circumstances of this case because 'the transcendent value of speech is involved.' This is a wholly novel doctrine, unsupported by any precedent, and so far as I can see, inapposite to several other decisions of this Court upholding the application of similar oaths to municipal employees, Garner v. Board of Public Works, 1951, 341 U.S. 716, 71 S.Ct. 909, 95 L.Ed. 1317; public school teachers, Adler v. Board of Education, 1952, 342 U.S. 485, 72 S.Ct. 380, 96 L.Ed. 517; candidates for public office, Gerende v. Board of Supervisors, 1951, 341 U.S. 56, 71 S.Ct. 565, 95 L.Ed. 745; and labor union officials, American Communications Ass'n v. Douds, 1950, 339 U.S. 382, 70 S.Ct. 674, 94 L.Ed. 925. See also Davis v. Beason, 1890, 133 U.S. 333, 10 S.Ct. 299, 33 L.Ed. 637, as to voters in territorial elections. All of those decisions, by virtue of the oath involved, put the burden on the individual to come forward and disavow activity involving 'the transcendent value of speech.' The majority attempts to distinguish them on the basis of their involving a greater state interest in justification of restricting speech, and also on the ground that the oaths there involved were conclusive in nature. The first distinction, however, seems pertinent only to the validity of an oath requirement in the first place, not to burden of proof under such a requirement. The second distinction, which arguendo I accept as true at this point, seems exceedingly flimsy, since even an oath that is conclusive in nature forces the applicant to the burden of coming forward and making the requisite declaration. So far as impact on freedom of speech is concerned, the further burden of proving the declarations true appears close to being de minimus.

The majority assumes, without deciding, that California may deny a tax exemption to those in the proscribed class. I think it perfectly clear that the State may do so, since only that speech is affected which is criminally punishable under the Federal Smith Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2385, 18 U.S.C.A. § 2385, or the California Criminal Syndicalism Act, Cal.Stat., 1919, c. 188. And California has agreed that its interpretation of criminal speech under those Acts shall be in conformity with the decisions of this Court, e.g., Yates v. United States, 1957, 354 U.S. 298, 77 S.Ct. 1064, 1 L.Ed.2d 1356; Dennis v. United States, 1951, 341 U.S. 494, 71 S.Ct. 857, 95 L.Ed. 1137; Whitney v. People of State of California, 1927, 274 U.S. 357, 47 S.Ct. 641, 71 L.Ed. 1095. The interest of the State that justifies restriction of speech by imposition of criminal sanctions surely justifies the far less severe measure of denying a tax exemption, provided the lesser sanction bears reasonable relation to the evil at which the State aims. Cf. American Communications Ass'n v. Douds, supra. The general aim of the constitutional and legislative provisions in question is to restrict advocacy of violent or forceful overthrow of State or National Government; the particular aim is to avoid state subsidization of such advocacy by refusing the State's bounty to those who are so engaged. The latter has been denominated the 'primary purpose' by the California Supreme Court. 48 Cal.2d, at page 428, 311 P.2d at page 513. In view of that, reasonable relation is evident on the face of the matter.

Refusal of the taxing sovereign's grace in order to avoid subsidizing or encouraging activity contrary to the sovereign's policy is an accepted practice. We have here a parallel situation to federal refusal to regard as 'necessary and ordinary,' and hence deductible under the federal income tax, those expenses deduction of which would frustrate sharply defined state policies. See Tank Truck Rentals, Inc., v. Commissioner, 1958, 356 U.S. 30, 78 S.Ct. 507, 2 L.Ed.2d 562.

If the State's requirement of an oath in implementing denial of this exemption be thought to make an inroad upon speech over and above that caused by denial of the exemption, or even by criminal punishment of the proscribed speech, I find California's interest still sufficient to justify the State's action. The restriction must be considered in the context in which the oath is set-appeal to the largesse of the State. The interest of the State, as before pointed out, is dual in nature, but its primary thrust is summed up in an understandable desire to insure that those who benefit by tax exemption do not bite the hand that gives it.

Appellants raise other issues-pre-emption of security legislation under Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Nelson, 1956, 350 U.S. 497, 76 S.Ct. 477, 100 L.Ed. 640, and denial of equal protection because the oath is not required for all types of tax exemptions-which the majority does not pass upon. I treat of them only so far as to say that I think neither has merit, substantially for the reasons stated in the opinion of the Supreme Court of California.

If my interpretation of § 32 is correct, I assume that California will afford appellants another opportunity to take the oath, this time knowing that its filing will have conclusive effect. For the reasons stated above, I would affirm the judgment.

For concurring opinion of Mr. Justice BLACK with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS joins, see 357 U.S. 513, 78 S.Ct. 1352.


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).