Supreme Court to Rule on Internet Sales Tax Collection

In a move that could bring sweeping changes to the online commerce sector, the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether states may require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax.

In Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992), the Supreme Court held that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax. South Dakota asks the Supreme Court to overturn Quill in South Dakota v. Wayfair.

In March 2015 Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion stating that the “legal system should find an appropriate case for this Court to reexamine Quill.” Justice Kennedy criticized Quill in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl for many of the same reasons the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) stated in its amicus brief in that case. Specifically, internet sales have risen astronomically since 1992 — and states and local governments are unable to collect most taxes due on sales from out-of-state vendors.

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Following the Kennedy opinion a number of state legislatures passed laws requiring remote vendors to collect sales tax. South Dakota’s law was the first to be ready for review by the Supreme Court.

In September, South Dakota’s highest state court ruled that the South Dakota law is unconstitutional because it clearly violates Quill and it is up to the Supreme Court to overrule it. In October, South Dakota filed a certiorari petition asking the Supreme Court to hear its case and overrule Quill.

It is possible (though not yet certain) that the court will hear this case during this term —  meaning it would issue an opinion by the end of June 2018.

The State and Local Legal Center filed an amicus brief asking the court to hear this case. Tillman Breckenridge, Bailey & Glasser, wrote the amicus brief, which the following organizations joined: the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the United States Conference of Mayors, the International City/County Management Association, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the Government Finance Officers Association, the International Public Management Association for Human Resources, National School Boards Association,  the School Superintendents Association, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the executive director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations, including the National League of Cities, representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.