There is a growing movement in the United States of Americans that call into question the constitutionality of the Federal Income tax in the modern age.

Understanding that the income tax first came into being to help fund the military in war time, the fact that the tax continued into peace time and has become the core of our tax system to this day has some questioning if there is a constitutional basis for such a tax.

What are the arguments for this belief and have there been any Supreme Court cases where this very question was asked?

2 Answers 2


The constitutionality of the income tax was addressed by the Supreme Court in the 1895 case Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. At the time, the Court ruled that federal income taxes not apportioned by population were unconstitutional. Congress responded by passing the Sixteenth Amendment, which explicitly allows the federal government to collect income taxes however it wants:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

  • 1
    @maple_shaft: There are arguments about whether the amendment was properly ratified and whether its language was effective, but they're flimsier than a moth-eaten straw hat.
    – mmyers
    Dec 5, 2012 at 15:31
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    But pretty much everyone can agree we WANT it to be true sooo badly when April comes around. =)
    – JohnFx
    Dec 19, 2012 at 3:22

As has been said elsewhere, the constitutionality of income tax in the US rests on the 16th amendment. there is no doubt that the 16th amendment permits Congress to raise income tax. The argument of those that believe income tax to be unconstitutional rests on their belief that the 16th amendment was improperly ratified.

I refer you to this answer which discusses the arguments and their refutation in more detail, with references. The main court decision with respect to this issue was United States v Thomas.

  • Have courts examined the question of whether imputed income is "derived from any source"? There are a number of places in the tax code which specify that certain endeavors are supposed to yield a certain level of income, and levy tax on that amount of "income" even if the endeavors actually yield less. While courts are often more interested in political considerations than constitutional ones, I would think that from a constitutional perspective income would need to actually exist before it could be considered to have been "derived from any source".
    – supercat
    Jan 20, 2015 at 17:57
  • @supercat If you want to ask an additional question, please use the "Ask Question" button at the top right. Jan 20, 2015 at 17:59

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