Hylton v. United States

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Hylton v. United States
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 23, 1796
Decided March 8, 1796
Full case name Daniel Hylton, Plaintiff in Error v. The United States
Citations 3 U.S. 171 (more)
3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 171; 1 L. Ed. 556; 1796 U.S. LEXIS 397; 2 A.F.T.R. (P-H) 2155
Prior history Defendant convicted, Circuit Court for the District of Virginia
Subsequent history None
A tax on the possession of goods is not a "direct" tax, which must be apportioned under Article I of the Constitution.
Court membership
Seriatim opinion Chase
Seriatim opinion Paterson
Seriatim opinion Iredell
Seriatim opinion Wilson
Ellsworth and Cushing took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. I

Hylton v. United States, 3 U.S. 171 (1796), was an early United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that a tax on carriages did not violate the Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 respectively the Article I, Clause 9 requirement for the apportioning of direct taxes. It found the carriage tax was an "excise" instead of a "direct tax" requiring apportionment among the states by population. The Court noted that a tax on land was an example of a direct tax contemplated by the Constitution.

It is also significant for being the first case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of an act of Congress; in choosing to uphold the tax, the Court exercised judicial review, although they refrained from overturning the statute. While many say that Marbury v. Madison (1803) was the first case in which the Supreme Court exercised judicial review, this is not true. Marbury v. Madison was simply the first case in which the Supreme Court ruled an act of Congress unconstitutional [1]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The Justices at the time, rather than issuing a single opinion of the Court, instead issued seriatim opinions, with each writing separately and reading his own analysis in turn. The Court's interpretation of the federal tax power lasted until modified in Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. (1895), in which the Supreme Court held an unapportioned 1894 federal income tax on interest, dividends, and rents to be unconstitutional because the tax was a "direct tax" that had to be apportioned. The Pollock decision was superseded by the Sixteenth Amendment (1913), which allowed the Congress to impose a tax on incomes from "whatever source derived" without any requirement for apportionment.

Alexander Hamilton argued before court on behalf of the government, claiming that the tax was a valid use of the power of Congress. Justice James Iredell wrote, two days after the event: "Mr. Hamilton spoke in our Court, attended by the most crowded audience I ever saw there, both Houses of Congress being almost deserted on the occasion. Though he was in very ill health, he spoke with astonishing ability, and in a most pleasing manner, and was listened to with the profoundest attention. His speech lasted about three hours."

Use as precedent[edit]

In 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts cited Hylton v. United States as a precedent for deeming the mandate for individuals to buy health insurance contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be constitutional as a tax.[2] Justice Samuel Chase said in Hylton: "The term duty, is the most comprehensive next to the generical term tax; and practically in Great Britain, (whence we take our general ideas of taxes, duties, imposts, excises, customs, etc.) embraces taxes on stamps, tolls for passage, etc. etc. and is not confined to taxes on importation only." And, "As I do not think the tax on carriages is a direct tax, it is unnecessary, at this time, for me to determine, whether this court, constitutionally posssesses the power to declare an act of Congress void, on the ground of its being made contrary to, and in violation of, the Constitution; but if the court have such power, I am free to declare, that I will never exercise it, but in a very clear case."[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hall, Kermit (1999). The Oxford guide to United States Supreme Court decisions. Oxford University. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-19-513924-2. 
  2. ^ Richard D. Allen (28 June 2012). "Richard D. Allen: Roberts's Rehnquist-Meets-O'Connor Compromise". The Washington Spectator. Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Hylton v. United States, 3 U.S. 171.

Further reading[edit]

  • Frankel, Robert P., Jr. (2003). "Before Marbury: Hylton v. United States and the Origins of Judicial Review". Journal of Supreme Court History 28 (1): 1–13. doi:10.1111/1540-5818.00052. 
  • Smith, Jean Edward (1996). John Marshall: Definer Of A Nation. New York: Henry Holt & Company. ISBN 0-8050-1389-X. 

External links[edit]