[283 U.S. 96, 97] Messrs. Wm. H. Watkins, of Jackson, Miss., and R. C. Stovall, of Okolona, Miss., for appellants and petitioners.
Mr. Simon Rosenthal, of Jackson, Miss., for appellee and respondent.
Mr. Chief Justice HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.
On behalf of the Mississippi levee district, the state tax collector of Mississippi sued the Columbus & Greenville Railway Company to collect a tax for the years 1926 and 1927, under chapter 282 of the Laws of Mississippi of 1914, at the rate of $350 a mile on its main line within the District. The railway company had paid the tax at the rate of $50 a mile, pursuant to the provisions of an amending act, chapter 259 of the Laws of 1926, which fixed the tax at that rate for a railroad having less than twenty-five miles of main line within the district. The railway company fell within the amendment, as its main line in the district was only 18.41 miles in length. The collector alleged in his declaration that the act of 1926 was unconstitutional and void because the bill providing therefor had not been published, in advance of introduction, as required by section 234 of the state Constitution. Demurrer to the declaration was sustained by the circuit court [283 U.S. 96, 98] of Montgomery county, but its judgment was reversed by the Supreme Court of the state upon the ground that the classification by the act of 1926 was 'arbitrary and unreasonable, and therefore in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.' 154 Miss. 317, 122 So. 366, 367.
The railway company then pleaded that it was not indebted, and gave notice that it would undertake to show that the classification of the act of 1926 was valid, and, further, that the statute laying the tax demanded by the plaintiff, that is, the act of 1914, was itself unreasonable and violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Upon the trial, evidence offered by the defendant in support of these allegations was received subject to objection which the circuit court finally sustained, and judgment was entered for the amount of the tax on the basis of $350 a mile. This judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the state, in the view that the case was ruled by its previous opinion and that the excluded evidence, if competent, could not have changed the result. 127 So. 784.
An appeal was taken to this Court, and a motion to dismiss or affirm was postponed to the hearing on the merits. At the same time, this Court granted a writ of certiorari. 282 U.S. 825 , 51 S. Ct. 39, 75 L. Ed. -.
That part of the state of Mississippi, known as the Mississippi Delta, is divided into two districts, the Mississippi levee district and the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta levee district, to the end that each district may maintain the levees necessary to protect the lands within it. The Mississippi levee district, created in 1865, comprises the southern part of the Delta. It is said that four methods of taxation are used to maintain this district, an acreage tax, a cotton tax, an ad valorem tax on property generally, and a mileage tax on railroad companies which it appears is in lieu of the ad valorem tax. Miller v. Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad Co., 132 So. 597, Supreme Court of Mississippi, decided February 23, 1931. [283 U.S. 96, 99] Prior legislation providing for the mileage tax on railroads was amended by chapter 282 of the Laws of 1914 so as to impose a tax of $350 a mile on the main line of standard gauge railroads within the district, $87.50 a mile on narrow gauge railroads, and $210 a mile on standard gauge branch lines. Chapter 259 of the Laws of 1926 added to the statute the following proviso: 'Provided further that the tax per mile per annum on the main line of any railroad company which does not own in excess of twenty-five miles of railroad in the Mississippi levee district shall be $50.00 per annum.' The Supreme Court of the state, holding that this proviso was invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment, did not deem it necessary to decide, whether this ruling invalidated merely the proviso or the entire act of 1926, as in either event the tax to be paid would be the same.
We are not concerned with any question of the state's policy in imposing taxes, or with the various methods employed in the levee district, apart from the application of the Fourteenth Amendment. The question as to the validity of the act of 1926 is raised only by the state tax collector in his official capacity, as one acting solely under the authority of the Legislature whose requirement he contests. The only person taxed by the statute whose rights are before the court is the petitioner, which seeks to uphold the state legislation which defines its liability and with which it has complied. The questions which the collector sought to raise under the state Constitution have not been passed upon by the state court. While, so far as state practice is concerned, the authority of a public officer to assail in the courts of the state the constitutional validity of a state statute is a local question,1 this fact does not alter the fundamental principle, governing the determination of the federal question by this court, that the protec- [283 U.S. 96, 100] tion of the Fourteenth Amendment against state action is only for the benefit of those who are injured through the invasions of personal or property rights or through the discriminations which the amendment forbids. 2 The constitutional guaranty does not extend to the mere interest of an official, as such, who has not been deprived of his property without due process of law or denied the equal protection of the laws.