Brown v. Maryland

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12 Wheat. (25 U.S.) 419 (1827), argued 28 Feb. and 1 Mar. 1827, decided 12 Mar. 1827 by vote of 6 to 1; Marshall for the Court, Thompson in dissent. In Brown v. Maryland, importers of foreign goods challenged a state law that required all persons who sold such goods to purchase a license. They alleged that it violated the ban on import taxes in Article 1, section 10 of the Constitution, as well as interfered with federal authority over interstate and foreign commerce. Chief Justice John Marshall sustained both contentions. He formulated the “original package” doctrine, which held that the taxing power of a state does not extend to imports from abroad so long as they remain in the original package. Only after the goods became mixed with the general property in the state could the state treat them as it did all domestic goods for sale. Marshall held a license tax on the importer to be indistinguishable from a tax on the import itself. Roger B. Taney, who succeeded Marshall as chief justice, had argued the case as counsel for the state of Maryland, but he later wrote that he believed the case had been correctly decided.

Marshall hinted that the Brown decision applied to domestic imports from a sister state, but in Woodruff v. Parham (1869) the Court held that the original package rule did not apply to goods moving in interstate commerce. In 1976 the Court further diluted the Brown doctrine when in Michelin Tire Corporation v. Wages it decided that a state might assess a value-based property tax upon a foreign import stored in a warehouse awaiting sale. To exempt a foreign import from a uniform state property tax, declared the Court, would accord it preferential treatment.

Robert J. Steamer

Subjects: Law.

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