Monday, June 15, 2009

Polar Tankers v. City of Valdez

Tonnage Clause: Art. 1 §10, cl. 2: this Court has consistently interpreted the language of the Tonnage Clause in light of its purpose, which mirrors the intent of other constitutional provisions that seek to restrain the States from exercising the taxing power in a way that is injurious to the interests of other States. The Clause seeks to prevent States from nullifying Art. I, §10, cl. 2’s prohibition against import and export duties by taxing “the vessels transporting the merchandise.”  It also reflects an effort to diminish a State’s ability to obtain tax advantages based on its favorable geographic position; this case lies at the heart of what the Tonnage Clause forbids. The ordinance seems designed to impose “a charge for the privilege of entering, trading in, or lying in a port.” The tax applies almost exclusively to oil tankers, but to no other form of personal property; this Court later made clear that the “prohibition” against tonnage duties “comes into play” where vessels “are not taxed in the same manner as the other property of the citizens”; this qualification, important in light of the Clause’s purpose, means that, in order to fund services by taxing ships, a State must also impose similar taxes upon other businesses. Valdez fails to satisfy this requirement (U.S.S.Ct., 15.06.09, Polar Tankers v. City of Valdez, J. Breyer).

« Tonnage Clause » : la Constitution fédérale interdit aux états de taxer les importations et les exportations, et interdit de contourner cette interdiction en taxant les navires de commerce. De manière plus générale, les états ne peuvent exercer leur pouvoir de lever l’impôt d’une manière contraire aux intérêts d’un autre état. Et la Constitution fédérale vise également à diminuer la capacité d’un état d’obtenir des avantages fiscaux du fait de sa situation géographique. Est par conséquent contraire à la Constitution l’imposition d’une taxe permettant d’obtenir le privilège d’entrer, de commercer, ou de stationner dans un port maritime. La taxation d’un navire de commerce selon son tonnage est contraire à la Constitution lorsque le navire de commerce n’est pas taxé de la même manière que les autres biens des citoyens.   

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