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Collector v. Day

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Significance: In a series of decisions on tax immunities, the Supreme Court held that the federal government could not tax the income of a state judge, based on dual sovereignty of the state and the federal government.


Collector is of historical interest for its place in a line of opinions on tax immunities that began with Chief Justice John Marshall's opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). Marshall held that the state could not impose a tax on an institution created by the federal government. Following this line, the Court held in Dobbins v. Erie County (1842) that the state could not tax the income of a federal official. In Collector, the opposite situation from Dobbins, the Court held that the federal government could not tax the income of a state judge. Justice Samuel Nelson wrote the 8-1 majority opinion; only Justice Joseph P. Bradley dissented. Nelson relied on the Tenth Amendment and on the theory of dual sovereignty to hold that both the state and federal governments were independent of each other and states retain all aspects of sovereignty not delegated to the national government. This was the strongest view of dual sovereignty presented by the Court, but it could not be sustained over time. Collector was substantially weakened by Helvering v. Gerhardt (1938) and directly overturned in Graves v. New York ex rel. O’Keefe (1939).