• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the validity of state taxes on the sale of imported liquor, but the justices disagreed about the basis of the ruling.

During the antebellum period, the Supreme Court found it difficult to harmonize federal authority over interstate commerce with the states’ police powers. The legislatures of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire enacted sales taxes on imported liquors, to the benefit of local retailers. In nine separate opinions, the justices were in general agreement that state taxes for police purposes might have an incidental effect on interstate commerce. Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney and three other justices argued that states were free to regulate commerce in the absence of federal legislation. The other three justices viewed the state relations as a legitimate exercise of the state’s police power to protect public health and morality. The License Cases influenced the development of the doctrine of selective exclusiveness, as articulated in Cooley v. Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia[case]Cooley v. Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia[Cooley v. Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia] (1852).Interstate commerce;License Cases[License Cases]Police powers;License Cases[License Cases]

Brown v. Maryland

Burton, Harold H.

Cooley v. Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia

Police powers

State taxation

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