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KEHRER V. STEWART, 197 U. S. 60 (1905)

U.S. Supreme Court

Kehrer v. Stewart, 197 U.S. 60 (1905)

Kehrer v. Stewart

No. 152

Argued January 24, 25, 1905

Decided February 27, 1905

197 U.S. 60


As a tax upon the seller of goods is a tax upon the goods themselves, and a tax upon goods sold in one state delivered to a common carrier and consigned to the purchaser in another state is an illegal interference with interstate commerce, a state cannot impose a privilege tax on agents of packing houses as to meats shipped to him from another state merely for distribution to purchasers from his principal; but where the supreme court of the state has held that the tax is void as to interstate shipments and applies only to the domestic business of the agent in the ordinary course of trade, and all other such agents, whether of domestic or foreign packing houses, are subject to the tax, that construction will be accepted by this Court as in reality a part of the statute itself, and the tax is within the power of the state and is not, as to his domestic business, an interference with interstate commerce even though all of the goods sold by an agent may be shipped to him from another state.

Nor is such a tax void because it is laid upon the agents themselves and cannot be apportioned between the interstate and the domestic business carried on by the same person.

While such a tax might not apply to an agent whose domestic business was purely nominal and strictly incidental to his interstate business, it does apply to one whose domestic business is a definite, although a minor, part of his business in the state, as the application of the tax does not depend on the greater or less magnitude of the business.

Page 197 U. S. 61

Where such a tax is imposed alike upon the managing agent both of domestic and foreign houses, it does not deny to the agent of a foreign house the equal protection of the laws.

A state has the right to classify occupations and impose different taxes upon different occupations. The necessity for, and the amount of, the tax are exclusively within the control of the state legislature, and, in the absence of discrimination against citizens of other states, its determination in regard thereto is not open to criticism in this Court.

Such a tax does not impair the obligation of, or affect, any contract previously made between the principal and the agent. The power of taxation overrides any agreement of an employee to serve for a specific sum.

This was an action by Kehrer against the tax collector of the County of Fulton to recover back a tax of $200, with interest and costs, paid to Stewart under protest, such tax having been assessed against him under the general tax law of the state, of December 21, 1900, which provided that there should be assessed and collected "upon all agents of packing houses doing business in this state, $200 in each county where said business is carried on." Petitioner charged the law to be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Defendant demurred to the petition, and this demurrer being overruled, a writ of error was taken from the supreme court, which reversed the judgment of the court below in overruling the demurrer. 115 Ga. 184. Plaintiff thereupon amended his petition, insisting that the tax denied him due process of law as well as the equal protection of the law, impaired the obligation of his contract with the firm, and was also in conflict with the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States. The defendant demurred to the amended petition. The court sustained the demurrer, and the supreme court affirmed its action. 117 Ga. 969.

Page 197 U. S. 64

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