Today I learned that federal income taxes were unconstitutional before the 16th Amendment which authorized them.

From an answer to the question, Constitutionality of the Income Tax

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.

Since the 16th Amendment only allows the collection of income taxes, does this mean that it is currently still unconstitutional for the United States federal government to collect a wealth tax?

  • 1
    Would this question find a better audience at Law.SE?
    – bytebuster
    Feb 24 '16 at 23:36
  • 3
    Actually, I suspect this might be a question for the courts to decide. I don't think anyone on SE will be able to conclusively answer it. Feb 25 '16 at 13:24
  • We can provide opinion, but that's all it'd be. The only decisive answer would come from a court's ruling/opinion.
    – user1530
    Feb 25 '16 at 15:36
  • 2
    @blip only if you don't believe in constitutionally constrained government ;)
    – lazarusL
    Feb 25 '16 at 22:18
  • 3
    Do you mean any wealth tax, or a federal wealth tax?
    – cpast
    Feb 26 '16 at 0:39

No. It is of course possible that one day it may be ruled unconstitutional, and there are many who argue it already is, but a Supreme Court ruling has not addressed this question directly yet.

The National Review (admittedly a conservative publication) made an interesting argument that a wealth tax would require a constitutional amendment: http://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/333660/constitutional-fiasco-wealth-tax-matthew-j-franck

Part of this logic involves the history of the constitutionality of income taxes, which was resolved by the 16th Amendment: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

On the flip side, one journalist argues we do (kind of) have wealth taxes in America, but - as he says - they're not done well: http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/03/06/america_s_wealth_tax_it_s_called_property_taxes_and_they_re_not_very_smart.html

  • 2
    It's important to note on your last point that state level wealth taxes are almost certainly constitutional (as they already exist), but that that in no way effects whether or not a federal wealth tax is currently constitutional.
    – lazarusL
    Feb 26 '16 at 16:14

At the state level, you may be interested in an asset tax the billionaire Ambassador Walter Annenberg defeated in 2000 in Pennsylvania, since it favored PA stocks and bonds violating the commerce clause: Annenberg v Pennsylvania

  • Can you please expand your answer a bit? I don't follow how this would answer the original question.
    – bytebuster
    Feb 29 '16 at 3:19

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