The Federalism Project

American Enterprise Institute


Hibbs v. Winn

When can Federal Courts Entertain Challenges to State Tax Laws?

Decided June 14, 2004

Sure, everyone knows Judge Reinhardt wrote the Pledge decision that had El Nino and the Knights of Columbus roaring, but it is his interpretation of the federal Tax Injunction Act (TIA)--upheld in Hibbs v Winn--that will have a greater impact on American federalism. Justice Ginsburg, writing in Hibbs, seconded Judge Reinhardt's narrow interpretation of the TIA, guaranteeing the increased use of federal courts to challenge state tax policy. Neither Judge Reinhardt or Justice Ginsburg was inconvenienced by the TIA's text, which unambiguously removes state tax law, in most cases, from federal court jurisdiction: "The District Courts shall not enjoin, suspend, or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under state law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts of such state."

Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas in dissent, offers a logical objection: "the TIA protects the responsibility of the States and their courts to administer their own tax systems and to be accountable to the citizens of the State for their policies and decisions." The majority opinion, Justice Kennedy explains, "shows great skepticism for the state courtsí ability to vindicate constitutional wrongs," which is too bad for federalism and the statute's actual meaning. 

  Decision here

9th Circuit opinion

back to main page