Imágenes de páginas


Opinion of the Court.

was said in Dane v. Jackson, 256 U. S. 589, 599, the taxing statute “results in such flagrant and palpable inequality between the burden imposed and the benefit received, as to amount to the arbitrary taking of property without compensation—'to spoilation under the guise of exerting the power of taxing.'” Citing Bell's Gap R. R. v. Pennsylvania, 134 U. S. 232, 237; Henderson Bridge Co. v. Henderson City, 173 U. S. 592, 615; Wagner v. Baltimore, 239 U. S. 207, 220.

The subject matter of an inheritance taxing statute may be either the transmission, or the exercise of the legal power of transmission, of property by will or descent, (United States v. Perkins, 163 U. S. 625, 629; Plummer v. Coler, 178 U. S. 115, 125; New York Trust Co. v. Eisner, 256 U. S. 345), or it may be the legal privilege of taking property by devise or descent (Magoun v. Illinois Trust & Savings Bank, 170 U. S. 283; Knowlton v. Moore, 178 U. S. 41; Campbell v. California, 200 U.S. 87.)

Even assuming that a State does not, under the Constitution of the United States, possess unlimited power to curtail the power of disposition of property at death or the privilege of receiving it by way of inheritance, there is nevertheless no constitutional guarantee of equality of taxation. The power of the States to discriminate in fixing the amount and incidence of taxation upon inheritances is undoubted. A State may levy a tax upon the power to dispose of property by will, graduated by the size of the legacy, and it may grant exemptions. See Plummer v. Coler, supra; Keeney v. Comptroller of N. Y., 222 U. S. 525. It may discriminate between property which has not borne its full share of taxation in the testator's lifetime and other property passing to the same class of transferees. Watson v. State Comptroller, 254 U. S. 122. It may fix a graduated succession tax, even though the amount of tax assessed does not vary in pro

Opinion of the Court.

268 U.S.

portion to the amount of the legacy received by persons of the same class. Magoun v. Illinois Trust & Savings Bank, supra. It may fix a succession tax which imposes a tax upon inheritances to brothers and sisters and not on those to daughters-in-law and sons-in-law. Campbell v. California, supra.

The guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment of the equal protection of the laws is not a guarantee of equality of operation or application of state legislation upon all citizens of a State. As was said in Magoun v. Illinois Trust & Savings Bank, supra, at page 293:

“ It only prescribes that that law have the attribute of equality of operation, and equality of operation does not mean indiscriminate operation on persons merely as such, but on persons according to their relations. In some circumstances it may not tax A more than B, but if A be of a different trade or profession than B, it may.

In other words, the State may distinguish, select and classify objects of legislation, and necessarily this power must have a wide range of discretion.”

The taxing statute may, therefore, make a classification for purposes of fixing the amount or incidence of the tax, provided only that all persons subjected to such legislation within the classification are treated with equality and provided further that the classification itself be rested upon some ground of difference having a fair and substantial relation to the object of the legislation. Magoun v. Illinois Trust & Savings Bank, supra; F. S. Royster Guano Co. v. Virginia, 253 U. S. 412.

"It may, if it chooses, exempt certain classes of property from any taxation at all, such as churches, libraries, and the property of charitable institutions. It may impose different specific taxes upon different trades and professions, and may vary the rate of excise upon various products; it may tax real estate and personal property in a different manner; it may tax visible property only,


Opinion of the Court.

and not tax securities for payment of money; it may allow deductions for indebtedness, or not allow them. . All such regulations, and those of like character, so long as they proceed within reasonable limits and general usage, are within the discretion of the state legislature, or the people of the State in framing their Constitution.” Bell's Gap R. R. v. Pennsylvania, 134 U.S. 232, at p. 237.

It is not necessary that the basis of classification should be deducible from the nature of the thing classified. It is enough that the classification is reasonably founded in the "purposes and policies of taxation.” Watson v. Comptroller, 254 U. S. 122. It is not open to objection unless it precludes the assumption that the classification was made in the exercise of legislative judgment and discretion. Campbell v. California, supra.

Unquestionably the operation of Subdivision 10 of § 2 of the California Inheritance Act of 1917 now under consideration may result in inequalities in the incidence of taxation. The requirement that the federal Estate Tax shall not be deducted in fixing the state Inheritance Tax imposes a much larger proportionate tax on the succession to a residuum of a large estate than a smaller estate, although the residuary estate and the residuary legacy be equal in each instance.

The plaintiffs in error base their argument that this is a denial of the equal protection of the laws on the assumption that the California Inheritance Tax must be dealt with exclusively as a tax upon succession, and that, since the privilege of receiving residuary legacies of like amounts by persons of like relationship is subjected to unequal taxation, the inequality depending upon the size of the estate from which the legacy is received, there is an arbitrary discrimination and a denial of the equal protection of the laws. It is true that the inheritance tax law of California in force before the adoption of the law of 1917 repealing it, was held by the Supreme Court of

Opinion of the Court.

268 U.S.

California to be a succession tax. Estate of Miller, 184 Cal. 674. That statute contained no express provision prohibiting the deduction of federal estate taxes before fixing the state tax on legacies, and that court held, adopting the principle of construction applied in Knowlton v. Moore, supra, that the true effect of the California Inheritance Tax Act, being that of a tax on succession, the federal tax must be deducted in order to determine the amount on which the state tax should be based. It is true, too, that the California Inheritance Tax Act of 1917 provides for a graduated tax dependent upon the size of the legacy and discriminates between different classes of persons receiving the legacy, provisions which are characteristic of laws levying the tax upon successions. But & 2 of that Act expressly imposes the tax“ upon the transfer of any property" of the character described in the Act, and Subdivision 3 of $ 1 of the Act provides that the word “transfer" as used in this Act shall be " taken to include the passing of any property or any interest therein " in the manner provided in the Act. Subdivision 10 of $ 2, which is new, in its practical operation, makes the amount of the tax dependent to some extent upon the amount of the decedent's estate which passes, since the federal Estate Tax which under that provision may not be deducted in fixing the state tax is assessed upon the whole estate. To that extent the statute establishes a classification based on the amount of the estate passing under the power of disposition at the time of death, as well as the classification, based upon the amount of the legacy received, contained in other provisions of the taxing law.

There are two elements in every transfer of a decedent's estate; the one is the exercise of the legal power to transmit at death; the other is the privilege of succession. Each, as we have seen, is the subject of taxation. The incidents which attach to each, as we have observed,

[blocks in formation]

may be made the basis of classification. We can perceive no reason why both may not be made the basis of classification in a single taxing statute, so that the amount of tax which the legatee shall pay may be made to depend both on the total net amount of the decedent's estate subject to the jurisdiction of the State and passing under its inheritance and testamentary laws and the amount of the legacy to which the legatee succeeds under those laws. Such a classification is not, on its face, unreasonable. The discrimination is one which bears a substantial relationship to the exercise of the power of disposition by the testator. It is one of the elements in the transfer which is made the subject of taxation. The adoption of the discrimination does not preclude the assumption that the legislature, in enacting the taxing statute, did not act arbitrarily or without the exercise of judgment or discretion which rightfully belong to it, and we can find in it no basis for holding the statute unconstitutional.

It is urged by appellants that the decision of this Court in Knowlton v. Moore, supra, is in conflict with the conclusion here reached. We do not so read the opinion in that case. It was there held that an act of Congress fixing a graduated tax upon legacies was within the taxing power of the United States. In construing that law, however, the question arose whether the progressive rate of tax which it imposed upon legacies or distributive shares of decedent's estate, should be measured, not separately by the amount of each legacy or distributive share, but by the total amount of the estate transmitted. This Court held that inasmuch as the statute laid down no express rule determining the question, it would adopt the construction which produced the least inconvenience and inequality to taxpayers, and that the tax should therefore be measured and apportioned according to the amount of each individual legacy rather than the amount of the whole estate. The question was one of construction only

« AnteriorContinuar »