Quirky Constitutional Provisions Matter: The Tonnage Clause, Polar Tankers, and State Taxation of Commerce
51 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2010 Last revised: 4 May 2011
Date Written: July 29, 2010
In Polar Tankers, Inc. v. City of Valdez, the Supreme Court in 2009 struck down a City of Valdez levy that was in form a personal-property tax, but that primarily reached oil tankers using Valdez’s ports, on the ground that the levy violated the Tonnage Clause of the Constitution (“No State, shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage”). The Tonnage Clause, part of the constitutional structure intended to ensure federal primacy in regulating commerce, was once a staple of litigation, but Polar Tankers was the first Supreme Court case decided under the Clause since 1935. Polar Tankers provides the opportunity to revisit a clause that might now seem quirky, but that was unquestionably important in the first century of the Republic, that raises many intriguing interpretive issues, and that can still (as this case shows) have significant effect.
Keywords: Polar Takers, Inc. v. City of Valdez, Tonnage Clause, Constitutional Law, Commerce, Import-Export Clause, Export Clause, Statutory Drafting
JEL Classification: K20, K34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation