Crandall v. Nevada

Admitted to the Union in 1864, the new state of Nevada was starved for revenue. An act of the legislature of March 8, 1865, imposed a variety of taxes, including a levy of one dollar for every person leaving the state on a common carrier, such as a stage coach or railroad. The tax was to be paid by the person or company operating the conveyance.

The agent for the Pioneer Stage Company at Carson City, William H. Crandall, refused to give a passenger list to the county sheriff, as the revenue act required. After a justice court ordered him jailed for contempt, Crandall sought a writ of habeas corpus from the state supreme court. His attorneys argued that the tax encroached upon Congress's constitutional power to regulate commerce and was a tax on exports, which the Constitution prohibits states from imposing. The state attorney general contended that the act did not infringe upon the commerce power because Congress had not as yet chosen to exercise that power, and denied that the measure was a tax on exports because persons could not be considered exports. The court, in Ex Parte Crandall (1 Nev. 294), agreed with the state's position and upheld the tax.

The case, now called Crandall v. Nevada (73 U. S. 35), was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which heard and decided it during its December 1867 term. No counsel appeared for Crandall, and no brief was filed for him. Justice Samuel Miller delivered the opinion of the majority. Although it considered the commerce power and export tax arguments, the Court found the passenger tax unconstitutional on much broader grounds: the right to travel from state to state without hindrance. The opinion especially emphasized a citizen's access to the national government and its many agencies, which such a tax could potentially deny if other states imposed similar duties and at higher rates. Miller asserted that "The people of these United States constitute one nation." In closing, he wrote "We are all citizens of the United States, and as members of the same community must have the right to pass and repass through every part of it without interruption, as freely as in our own States."

Two of the justices dissented. Their opinion agreed that the Nevada tax was unconstitutional, but argued that the majority should have based its opinion on specific constitutional grounds, namely the commerce clause.

The decision is historically significant in that it stands as a clear example of the post-Civil War Supreme Court's expansive view of the newly preserved Union. The Court's Lincoln-appointed majority shared the late president's views on the United States as a unitary nation.

The Crandall decision's continuing importance in American law lies in its frequent citation in cases involving the taxation of interstate travel.

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