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
Neither Judge Reinhardt or Justice Ginsburg was inconvenienced by the TIA's text,
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.
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