WILLIAMS V. FEARS, 179 U. S. 270 (1900)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. Fears, 179 U.S. 270 (1900)

Williams v. Fears

No. 287

Argued October 29, 1900

Decided December 10, 1900

179 U.S. 270


By a general revenue act of the State of Georgia, a specific tag was levied upon many occupations, including that of "emigrant agent," meaning a person engaged in hiring laborers to be employed beyond the limits of the state. Held that the levy of the tag did not amount to such an interference with the freedom of transit, or of contract, as to violate the federal Constitution.

Nor was the objection tenable that the equal protection of the laws was denied because the business of hiring persons to labor within the state was not subjected to a like tax.

The imposition of the tax fell within the distinction between interstate commerce, or an instrumentality thereof, and the mere incidents which

Page 179 U. S. 271

may attend the carrying on of such commerce. These labor contracts were not in themselves subjects of traffic between the states, nor was the business of hiring laborers so immediately connected with interstate transportation or interstate traffic that it could correctly be said that those who followed it were engaged in interstate commerce, or that the tax on that occupation constituted a burden on such commerce.

R. A. Williams was arrested on a warrant issued by the County Court of Morgan County, Georgia, and placed in the county jail on his failure to give bond pending his trial. Thereupon he made application to the judge of the superior court within and for that county for a writ of habeas corpus by petition alleging that the warrant under which he was arrested charged him with a violation of the tenth paragraph of section two of the General Tax Act of Georgia of 1898, and that his restraint was illegal because that part of the act was in conflict with clause three of section eight, and with clause five of section nine, of article one, and with section two of article four of the Constitution of the United States, and also with the Fourteenth Amendment. The writ of habeas corpus was duly issued, and the application heard on the return thereto, which resulted in the denial of the petition by the superior court and the remanding of Williams to custody. The case was then carried to the Supreme Court of Georgia, where, on April 11, 1900, judgment was rendered affirming the judgment of the superior court. 35 S.E. 699.

The title of the General Tax Act of 1898 (Georgia Laws 1898, p. 21) read thus:

"An act to levy and collect a tax for the support of the state government and the public institutions; for educational purposes in instructing children in the elementary branches of an English education only, to pay the interest on the public debt, and to pay maimed Confederate soldiers and widows of Confederate soldiers such amounts as are allowed them by law for each of the fiscal years 1899 and 1900, to prescribe what persons, professions, and property are liable to taxation, to

Page 179 U. S. 272

prescribe the methods of collecting and receiving taxes; to prescribe the method of ascertaining the property of the state subject to taxation, to prescribe additional questions to be propounded to taxpayers and to provide penalties and forfeitures for nonpayment of taxes, to prescribe how the oath of taxpayers shall be administered and provide penalties for violation thereof, and for other purposes."

Section 2 provided

"that, in addition to the ad valorem tax on real estate and personal property as required by the constitution and provided for in the preceding section, the following specific taxes shall be levied and collected for each of said fiscal years 1899 and 1900."

Then followed paragraphs imposing poll taxes, and taxes on lawyers, doctors, photographers, auctioneers, keepers of pool and billiard tables, traveling venders of patent or proprietary medicines, special nostrums, jewelry, paper, soap, or other merchandise, local insurance agents, etc.

Paragraph 10 was as follows:

"Upon each emigrant agent, or employer or employee of such agents, doing business in this state, the sum of five hundred dollars for each county in which such business is conducted."

Section 4 was as follows:

"Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that the taxes provided for in paragraphs 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32 of section 2 of this act shall be paid in full for the fiscal years for which they are levied to the tax collectors of the counties where such vocations are carried on at the time of commencing to do business specified in said paragraphs. Before any person taxed by paragraphs 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32 of section 2 of this act shall be authorized to carry on said business, they shall go before the ordinary of the county in which they propose to do business and register their names, places of business, and at the same time pay their taxes to the tax collector, and it shall be the duty of said ordinary to immediately notify the comptroller general and the tax collector. Any person failing to register with the ordinary, or, having registered, failing to pay the tax as herein required, shall be liable to indictment for misdemeanor, and, on conviction, shall be

Page 179 U. S. 273

fined not less than double the tax, or be imprisoned as prescribed by section 1039 of volume 3 of the Code of 1895, or both, in the discretion of the court. One-half of said fine shall be applied to the payment of the tax, and the other to the fund of fines and forfeitures for use of officers of court."

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