The Head Money Cases expanded the powers of Congress to control immigration, to use taxation in regulating commerce, and to repeal treaties with foreign countries.
Before the 1880’s, individual U.S. states exercised the primary role in the admission of immigrants. In the Immigration Act of 1882, Congress moved to assume greater control over immigration policy. In order to obtain funds to compensate the states for the burden of financing needy immigrants, Congress approved a federal head tax of fifty cents on every immigrant. Owners of passenger ships challenged the constitutionality of the tax on the grounds that the tax was not applied uniformly throughout the United States, that the law was not passed to provide for common defense or general welfare, and that the tax conflicted with foreign treaties previously approved by the Senate.
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected each of the three arguments against the head tax. Speaking for the Court, Justice
Fairman, Charles. Mr. Justice Miller and the Supreme Court, 1862-1890. Clark, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange, 2003. LeMay, Michael, and Elliott Robert Barkan, eds. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.
History of immigration after 1891
Supreme Court, U.S.