Crandall (Defendant) was a stagecoach company agent, charged with collecting and paying to the state a per capita tax on every person leaving the state. He argued that the tax was unconstitutional.
A state tax imposed upon all persons leaving the state via normal modes of transportation is unconstitutional.
Nevada (Plaintiff) imposed a tax of one dollar upon every person who left the state by railroad, stagecoach, or other for hire vehicle. The carrier was required to collect the tax and pay it to the state. Defendant was the agent for a stagecoach company and was convicted of failing to pay the tax. Defendant argued that the law was prohibited by Article I, § 10 of the United States Constitution, which does not allow states to impose taxes on imports or exports, as well as by the Commerce Clause. The United States Supreme Court decided the case.
Is a state tax on all persons leaving a state by normal modes of transportation in violation of the Constitution?
(Miller, J.) Yes. A state tax imposed upon all persons leaving the state via normal modes of transportation is unconstitutional. The state tax is not in violation of Article I, § 10, as people travelling from one state to another are not imports or exports. The Commerce Clause is similarly not implicated as Congress has not passed a statute on the matter and the tax only affects those leaving Nevada, so there is no impact on national commerce. Regardless, the law violates the Constitution. The federal government has the right to call citizens from various parts of the country to serve in the national capital or in other federal offices or in defense of the nation. A state may not restrict the government’s abilities to do so through a tax that hampers the movement of those serving the nation. Additionally, citizens themselves have the right to travel to the seat of government to assert a claim or conduct business with it, or to travel to governmental offices and ports throughout the country without restriction by a state. Plaintiff’s law is unconstitutional in that it restricts its residents from leaving as well as nonresidents from passing through it. Citizens of the United States must have the right to travel through every part of it, as freely as they may in their own states. This tax undermines the purpose of the United States itself and is invalid.
Two of the justices agreed that the statute was unconstitutional, but for a different reason. They argued in a separate opinion that the tax violated the Commerce Clause as an unconstitutional burden upon interstate commerce. Justice Miller, who wrote the majority opinion, dismissed this argument on the basis that the tax was on the passengers, not on the carriers themselves.