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Opinion of the Court.
by it. And when such legislation applies to artificial bodies, it is not open to objection if all such bodies are treated alike under similar circumstances and conditions, in respect to the privileges conferred upon them and the liabilities to which they are subjected. Under the statute of New York all corporations, joint stock companies and associations of the same kind are subjected to the same tax. There is the same rule applicable to all under the same conditions in determining the rate of taxation. There is no discrimination in favor of one against another of the same class. · Barbier v. Connolly, 113 U. S. 27, 32; Soon Hing v. Crowley, 113 U. S. 703, 709; Missouri Pacific Railway v. Humes, 115 U. S. 512, 523; Missouri Pacific Railway v. Mackey, 127 U. S. 205, 209; Minneapolis &c. Railway Co. v. Beckwith, 129 U. S. 26, 32."
In Giozza v. Tiernan, 148 U. S. 657, a difference in the amount of license required from parties carrying on different kinds of business, was the ground of attack upon a state statute, but the statute was sustained, and in respect to the Fourteenth Amendment it was said (p. 662): “Nor in respect of taxation was the amendment intended to compel the State to adopt an iron rule of equality; to prevent the classification of property for taxation at different rates; or to prohibit legislation in that regard, special either in the extent to which it operates or the objects sought to be obtained by it. It is enough that there is no discrimination in favor of one as against another of the same class. Bell's Gap Railroad v. Pennsylvania, 134 U. S. 232; Home Insurance Co. v. New York, 134 U. S. 594; Pacific Express Co. v. Seibert, 142 U. S. 339. And due process of law within the meaning of the amendment is secured if the laws operate on all alike, and do not subject the individual to an arbitrary exercise of the powers of government. Leeper v. Texas, 139 U. S. 462.”
In King v. Mullins, 171 U. S. 404, a discrimination in the laws of West Virginia as to the matter of forfeiture in tax proceedings between the owners of tracts of less than one thousand acres and those owning larger tracts, was challenged, but the court overruled the contention, saying (p. 435):
“Another point made by the plaintiff in error is, that the
Opinion of the Court.
provision of the constitution of Virginia, exempting tracts of less than one thousand acres from forfeiture is a discrimination against the owners of tracts containing one thousand acres or more, which amounts to a denial to citizens or landowners of the latter class of the equal protection of the laws. We do not concur in this view. The evil intended to be remedied by the constitution and laws of West Virginia was the persistent failure of those who owned or claimed to own large tracts of land, patented in the last century, or early in the present century, to put them on the land books, so that the extent and boundaries of such tracts could be easily ascertained by the officers charged with the duty of assessing and collecting taxes. Where the tract was a small one, the probability was that it was actually occupied by some one, and its extent or boundary could be readily ascertained for purposes of assessment and taxation. We can well understand why one policy could be properly adopted as to large tracts which the necessities of the public revenue did not require to be prescribed as to small tracts. The judiciary should be very reluctant to interfere with the taxing systems of a State, and should never do so unless that which the State attempts to do is in palpable violation of the constitutional rights of the owners of property. Under this view of our duty, we are unwilling to hold that the provision referred to is repugnant to the clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbidding a denial of the equal protection of the laws.”
See also Pacific Express Company v. Seibert, 142 U. S. 339; Thomas v. Gay, 169 U. S. 264. Text-books affirm the same doctrine. Burroughs on Taxation, sec. 56, says: “The rule is, that the legislature may select the subjects of taxation in their discretion;" and in Cooley on Taxation, chap. 6, p. 124, it is said: “There is no imperative requirement that taxation shall be equal.
The legislature must decide when and how and for what public purposes adax shall be levied, and must select the subjects of taxation. This is legislative, and the legislative conclusion in the premises must be accepted as proper and final.”
Gilman v. Sheboygan City, 2 Black, 510, is not in conflict
Opinion of the Court
with these views. True, in that case a tax levied for a special purpose by the city was adjudged void on the ground that it was levied exclusively on real property, but the decision was placed upon a conflict with the constitution of the State as interpreted by its Supreme Court. In other words, the Supreme Court of the State having in several cases held that such a discrimination avoided a tax, this court simply followed those decisions, saying, p. 518, that it considered itself “bound in cases like this to follow the settled adjudications of the highest state court giving constructions to the constitution and laws of the State.”
In the light of these decisions if the State of Florida had deemed it for the best interests of its people to encourage
the building of railroads by exempting their property from taxation, such exemption could not have been adjudged in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment, even though thereby the burden of taxation upon other property in the State was largely increased. Indeed, that was the policy of the State prior to the constitution of 1868. And, conversely, if the State had subjected railroads to taxation, while exempting some other class of property, it would be difficult to find anything in the Fourteenth Amendment to overthrow its action. The mere fact that such legislation may operate with harshness is not of itself sufficient to justify the court in declaring it unconstitutional. These matters of classification are of state policy, to be determined by the State, and the Federal government is not charged with the duty of supervising its action.
If the State, as has been seen, has the power, in the first instance, to classify property for taxation, it has the same right of classification as to property which in past years has escaped taxation. We must assume that the legislature acts according to its judgment for the best interests of the State. A wrong intent cannot be imputed to it. It may have found that the railroad delinquent tax was large, and the delinquent tax on other property was small and not worth the trouble of special provision therefor. If taxes are to be regarded as mere debts, then the effort of the State to collect from one debtor is not
MR.JUSTICE BROWN, dissenting.
prejudiced by its failure to make like effort to collect from another. And if regarded in the truer light as a contribution to the support of government, then it does not lie in the mouth of one called upon to make bis contribution to complain that some other person has not been coerced into a like contribution.
. In Winona & St. Peter Land Co. v. Minnesota, 159 U. S. 526, legislation of Minnesota for the collection of delinquent taxes on real estate was challenged because of a lack of similar legislation in respect to personal property, but the challenge was overruled, the court saying (p. 539):
“ This statute rests on the assumption that, generally speaking, all property subject to taxation has been reached and aims only to provide for those accidents wbich may happen under any system of taxation, in consequence of which here and there some item of property has escaped its proper burden; and.it may well be that the legislature in view of the probabilities of changes in the title or situs of personal property might deem it unwise to attempt to charge it with back taxès, while at the same time, by reason of the stationary character of real estate, it might elect to proceed against that. At any rate, if it did so it would violate no provision of the Federal Constitution, and whether it did so or not was a matter to be determined finally by the Supreme Court of the State.”
Our conclusion is that, so far as the Federal Constitution is concerned, the legislature of Florida had the power to compel the collection of delinquent taxes from the railroad companies for the years 1879, 1880 and 1881, even though it made no pro vision for the collection of delinquent taxes for those years on other property. The judgment, therefore, of the Supreme Court of Florida is
MR. JUSTICE BRown, dissenting.
I have no doubt whatever of the validity of the act of the legislature of Florida of 1883, requiring the assessor, upon discovering that any land in his county was omitted from the assessment roll of the three previous years, to assess the same
MR. JUSTICE BROWN, dissenting.
for such years, since this was a provision applicable to all real estate in his county onitted froin the assessment rolls for such years. But the act of 1885 did not proceed upon this basis. It arbitrarily selects railroad properties from all other species of property, and requires their assessment for another three years prior to the three covered by the act of 1883, and there bý, as it seems to me, denies them the equal protection of the laws. Under the act of 1883 all owners of real property omitted from the assessment rolls of the three previous years were put upon an equality, and made debtors to the State for the taxes of those years; but to segregate railroads from all other delinquent property, and tax them for another three years, as is done by the act of 1885, seems to me to open the statutes to the criticism of the court, wherein it is said : “Doubtless it" (the Fourteenth Amendment) “would prohibit a State from selecting some obnoxious person and casting upon his property the sole burden of taxation, or a burden differing from that cast upon others whose property was similarly situated.”
It appears quite immaterial that under the act of 1883 the property was to be assessed by the county assessors, and in the act of 1885 by the State Comptroller. The wrong done to the railway company is not in the selection of an agent to collect the taxes, but in the selection of a specially odious tax, namely, for antecedent years, and imposing it upon one class of delinquents alone. If, for instance, a license tax, varying in amount, were imposed upon a dozen different occupations, and by another act, subsequently passed, were made retroactive for three years, could the legislature by still another act, made applicable only to those employed in one out of these twelve occupations, make such act retroactive for another three years, without denying to those engaged in that occupation the equal protection of the laws ?
I do not wish to be understood as saying that the State may not impose a specific and even a discriminating tax upon railways, but after the liability to the State of all real property owners has once been established, and all placed upon the same footing, I do not think a particular species of property can be arbitrarily taken and subjected to a discriminating tax for a