MAGER v. GRIMA(1850)
THIS case was brought up, by a writ of error issued under the twenty- fifth section of the Judiciary Act, from the Supreme Court of Louisiana.
The Widow Collard, who was the plaintiff in error, resided at Metz in the kingdom of France, and was the universal legatee of her brother, Jean Mager, who died in Louisiana. There was a statement of facts in the court below, which explains the whole case.
(Signed,) ISAAC T. PRESTON, Attorney-General. H. R. DENIS, Attorney for Opponent.'
The Court of Probate dismissed the opposition of the Widow Collard, and ordered the account of the executor (retaining the tax) to be homologated. An appeal was carried to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, which affirmed the judgment of the Court of Probates, and the case was then brought up to this court under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act.
It was argued by Mr. Jones, for the plaintiff in error, and Mr. Coxe, for the defendants in error. The points upon which Mr. Jones rested his argument were the following, which were opposed by Mr. Coxe.
I. The tax in question is laid on the person and the rights of an alien residing in his own country;-and so is repugnant to the exclusive power of Congress to regulate commerce with foreign nations. II. Or it is a tax on the property and effects in the hands of the executor, and under the sole destination of being exported to the foreign legatee; and so is a tax on exports, and expressly prohibited by the Constitution.
I. It is repugnant to the power of Congress to regulate commerce with foreign nations.
Under this head two questions arise,-- First, whether it be in the nature of a regulation of commerce, such as the Constitution contemplated in the grant to Congress of the power to regulate commerce. Second, whether that power be in its terms or in its nature exclusive, and incompatible with state regulations of commerce.
First. To lay a peculiar tax, out of the rule of taxation common to the citizens of the state, on foreigners residing in their own country and holding property, or having vested [49 U.S. 490, 493] rights and interests of any kind in the state, and to lay it for the reason that they are foreigners beyond the jurisdiction of the state, is to exercise a power comprehended in the terms of the general power to regulate commerce with foreign nations.
II. The tax in question is essentially a tax on exports.
The state of Maryland could lay no tax on imported goods, even after the importation was consummated, and the goods removed to the importer's warehouse for sale, but still unsold. Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat., 419. A fortiori, not on effects deposited in the hands of an executor, trustee or agent, to be exported or remitted to the owner abroad.
Shifting the tax from the material of the export to the person of the exporter, does not alter its essence. Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat., 449.
Mr. Chief Justice TANEY delivered the opinion of the court.
This is a plain case, and when the facts are stated, the question of law may be disposed of in a few words.
The plaintiff in error was the residuary legatee-or, in the language of Louisiana law, the universal legatee-of a certain John Mager, who was a native of France, and migrated to the United States after the cession of Louisiana. He died at New Orleans possessed of property to a large amount. The widow Collard is his sister. At the time of his death she was a French subject residing in France.
By the law of Louisiana a tax of ten per cent. is imposed on legacies, when the legatee is neither a citizen of the United States, nor domiciled in that state. And the executor of the deceased, or other person charged with the administration of the estate, is directed to pay the tax to the State Treasurer.
Felix Grima, the defendant in error, is the executor of John Mager, and retained the amount of the tax, in order to pay it over as the law directs. And this suit was brought by the legatee to recover it, upon the ground that the act of the Louisiana Legislature is repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.
Now the law in question is nothing more than an exercise of the power which every state and sovereignty possesses, of regulating the manner and term upon which property, real or personal within its dominion may be transmitted by last will and testament, or by inheritance; and of prescribing who shall and who shall not be capable of taking it. Every state or nation may unquestionably refuse to allow an alien to take either real or personal property, situated within its limits, either as heir or [49 U.S. 490, 494] legatee, and may, if it thinks proper, direct that property so descending or bequeathed shall belong to the state. In many of the states of this Union at this day, real property devised to an alien is liable to escheat. And if a state may deny the privilege altogether, it follows that, when it grants it, it may annex to the grant any conditions which it supposes to be required by its interests or policy. This has been done by Louisiana. The right to take is given to the alien, subject to a deduction of ten per cent. for the use of the state.
In some of the states, laws have been passed at different times imposing a tax similar to the one now in question, upon its own citizens as well as foreigners; and the constitutionality of these laws has never been questioned. And if a state may impose it upon its own citizens, it will hardly be contended that aliens are entitled to exemption; and that their property in our own country is not liable to the same burdens that may lawfully be imposed upon that of our own citizens.
We can see no objection to such a tax, whether imposed on citizens and aliens alike, or upon the latter exclusively. It certainly has no concern with commerce, or with imports or exports. It has been suggested, indeed, in the argument, that, as the legatee resided abroad, it would be necessary to transmit to her the proceeds of the portion of the estate to which she was entitled, and that the law was therefore a tax on exports. But if that argument was sound, no property would be liable to be taxed in a state, when the owner intended to convert it into money and send it abroad.
The judgment of the state court was clearly right, and must be affirmed.
This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Supreme Court of the state of Louisiana, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, it is now here ordered and adjudged by this court, that the judgment of the said Supreme Court in this cause be, and the same is hereby affirmed with costs.