Williams v. Vermont 472 U.S. 14 (1985)

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WILLIAMS v. VERMONT 472 U.S. 14 (1985)

Vermont levied a use tax on automobiles, collected upon each car's registration. No tax was imposed if the car was bought in Vermont, and a Vermont sales tax was paid. If the car was purchased outside Vermont, the use tax was reduced by the amount of any sales tax paid to the other state—but only if the registrant was then a Vermont resident. Persons who had bought cars outside Vermont before becoming Vermont residents sued in state court, challenging the constitutionality of this scheme. The Vermont courts denied relief, but the Supreme Court, 6–3, held that the discrimination against newcomers violated the equal protection clause. Justice byron r. white wrote the opinion of the court.

As it had done for half a century, the Court avoided the much-discussed question whether a state must give a credit for payment of another state's sales tax in such circumstances. Instead, the Court followed zobel v. williams (1982) and held that the discrimination against newcomers to Vermont served no legitimate statutory purpose. As in Zobel, Justice william j. brennan, concurring, wrote that the discrimination threatened the "federal interest in free interstate migration." (See right to travel.) Justice harry a. blackmun, for the dissenters, favored a remand to the state courts for clarification whether the law in fact so discriminated. Even if it did, he argued, Vermont could legitimately tax in rough proportion to automobiles' use on Vermont roads.

Kenneth L. Karst

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Williams v. Vermont 472 U.S. 14 (1985)

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