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Elena Kagan on Tax Reform

 


Railroads can sue for tax exemptions on other diesel users.

Justice Kagan wrote the Court's decision on CSX v. ALABAMA on Feb 22, 2011:

Alabama requires railroads that purchase diesel fuel to pay the 4% sales tax. Alabama exempts from the sales tax the main competitors of railroads--interstate motor and water carriers. The federal Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act (4R) prohibits four forms of taxation that discriminate railroads. Three prohibitions concern property taxes. A fourth forbids a State to “impose another tax that discriminates against a rail carrier.” CSX seeks to prohibit Alabama from collecting the State sales tax from CSX.

HELD: Delivered by KAGAN, joined by ROBERTS, SCALIA, KENNEDY, BREYER, ALITO, and SOTOMAYOR

The State's collection at issue here is a tax. There is nothing in 4R that limits its definition to only an income tax. The plaintiff does not complain about the tax exemption given to others, it complains about the sales tax it must pay when other carriers do not. Discrimination means “the failure to treat all persons equally when no reasonable distinction can be found between those favored and those not.” Competitors in interstate transportation get a tax exemption that railroads do not. These facts state a case worthy of considering by Alabama as to whether its tax exemptions discriminate against railroads in violation of 4R.

DISSENT: Compared to broader tax base, no discrimination provable Filed by THOMAS; joined by GINSBURG

I would find that, in its context within 4R, the “another tax” clause harkens back to the three previous examples of discriminatory taxes given, all of which concern discriminatory tax policy in comparison with the class of other “commercial and industrial” taxpayers. CSX will not be able to show it was taxed differently than the general class of “commercial and industrial” taxpayers. The State's allowance of exemptions from a generally applicable tax to a few “commercial and industrial” taxpayers do not make the generally applicable tax discriminatory.
Source: Supreme Court case 11-CSX-AL argued on Nov 10, 2010

Other Justices on Tax Reform: Elena Kagan on other issues:
Samuel Alito
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Anthony Kennedy
John Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Sonia Sotomayor
Clarence Thomas

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Sandra Day O'Connor
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Page last updated: Jul 11, 2013