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Historical Perspectives on the Federal Income Tax











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10. DO SUCH ASPECTS OF THE FEDERAL INCOME TAX AS GRADUATED RATES, DEDUCTIONS, AND EXEMPTIONS VIOLATE THE EQUAL PROTECTION GUARANTEES OF THE CONSTITUTION?

The Constitution does not contain an express prohibition against the denial by the Federal Government of a person's equal protection of the laws. The Fifth Amendment does, however, preclude the United States from depriving any person of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.. " The Supreme Court has determined that this assurance also precludes the United States from denying persons equal protection of the laws.62

The prohibition against denial of equal protection of the laws, however, does not preclude Congress from creating reasonable classifications among taxpayers. The Court has stated that the Congress is to be given wide discretion in classifying taxpayers for purposes of tax deductions, exemptions, rates and other features. Such classifications are to be sustained unless they are arbitrary
 

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and capricious.63  The Court has, for example, upheld as reasonable classifications within the tax laws, the graduated nature of the income tax rates, imposing higher proportionate burdens on more wealthy taxpayers64 and the taxation of domestic corporations in a fashion distinct from foreign corporations.65

The latitude granted to Congress in tax matters was emphasized in the Supreme Court's decision in Commissioner v. Kowalski66 in which the Court ruled that highway patrol officers were required to pay tax on meal allowances granted them, even though similar allowances granted military personnel were expressly tax-free by statute. In relation to this disparity of treatment, the Court stated that:

arguments of equity have little force in construing the boundaries of exclusions and deductions from income, many of which, to be administrable, must be arbitrary.67
 



 

57 Phelps v. United States, 431 U.S. 330 (1974).

58 G.M. Leasing Corp. v. United States, 429 US. 339 (1977).

59 Id.

60 See, IRC § 6851 through 6864.

61 Laing v. United States, 423 US.161(1976).

62 See, Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S.1(1976); and Weinberger v. Weisenfeld,

420 U.S. 636 (1975).

63 Helvering v. Indiana Life Ins. Co., 292 U.S. 371(1934).

64 Brushaber v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., 240 US. 1 (1916).

65 National Paper Co. v. Bowers, 266 U.S. 373 (1924).

66 434 US. 77 (1977).

67 Id. at 95-96.
 


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