Saturday, July 14, 2012

More from Gibbons v. Ogden, and more concerning the American Revolution

This is a bit more substantial than the previous post:

"It is true, that duties may often be, and in fact often are, imposed on tonnage, with a view to the regulation of commerce; but they may be also imposed with a view to revenue; and it was, therefore, a prudent precaution, to prohibit the States from exercising this power.  The idea that the same measure might, according to circumstances, be arranged with different classes of power, was no novelty to the framers of our constitution.  Those illustrious statesmen and patriots had been, many of them, deeply engaged in the discussions which preceded the war of our revolution, and all of them were well read in those discussions.  The right to regulate commerce, even by the imposition of duties, was not controverted; but the right to impose a duty for the purpose of revenue, produced a war as important, perhaps, in its consequences to the human race, as any the world has ever witnessed."

The regulation of commerce may be accomplished by means which raise a revenue, and the raising of revenue (using taxes) may be accomplished by means which regulate commerce.  This might be diagrammed using the familiar diagram of two overlapping circles, where the section of overlap is a tax (by any name) which regulates commerce, or at least which is designed to regulate commerce as it brings in revenue.  During the Revolutionary War, the Founders opposed the imposition of taxes for the purpose of raising a revenue where it was not a bona fide regulation of imperial commerce, but NFIB v. Sebelius has brought before us (or, at least, made us conscious of) the matter of regulations -- of something other than commerce among the several states -- which are not bona fide revenue-raising levies.  The overlap between taxes and regulation did not stymie the First Continental Congress.  Maybe we should follow its lead, and draw the line at the boundary between good faith and bad.

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