Supreme Court agrees to hear online sale tax case

Ricky Carioti  The Washington Post via Getty Images

Ricky Carioti The Washington Post via Getty Images

The justices announced Friday that they will take a challenge to a 1992 precedent which allows states to collect sales taxes only from those companies with a physical presence in their jurisdiction. They say that the ruling is unfair to them and to bricks-and-mortar retailers within their borders that have no choice but to collect the taxes.

The trade groups and AGs filed Friends of the Court briefs previous year asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear South Dakota's case.

Among the other cases the court agreed to hear are those addressing a long-standing Supreme Court precedent regarding out-of-state sales taxes, the constitutional role of Securities and Exchange Commission administrative law judges, and what courts must do to back up a decision not to grant a person a proportional sentence reduction under federal sentencing rules.

NRF is the world's largest retail trade association, representing discount and department stores, home goods and specialty stores, Main Street merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and Internet retailers from the United States and more than 45 countries.

Internet giant Amazon.com fought for years against collecting sales tax but now does so nationwide, though third-party sellers on its site make their own decisions. The high court last considered the issue in 1992.

South Dakota's law was passed partly in response to a concurring opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy in a unanimous 2015 Supreme Court ruling that allowed a challenge to a Colorado law encouraging retailers to collect the taxes to go forward.

The court is likely to decide the case by the end of June, when its current term ends.

Texas' primary argument is that its 2013 maps are shielded from review because they were drawn by a court - even if they were drawn under rushed circumstances, and even if they did, in many respects, use the state-drawn 2011 maps as a template. According to one estimate cited by the states in a brief they filed with the high court, they'll lose out on almost $34 billion in 2018 if the Supreme Court's previous rulings stand. Then, to help boost their chances, lawyers for the state helped to solicit 15 "friend of the court" briefs from retailers, states, economists and others even before the justices made a decision to hear the case.

Last summer, after the three-judge panel invalidated some of the congressional and state House districts, finding they violate the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Voting Rights Act, the state and plaintiffs had been preparing to meet to take up remedial maps, when the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the lower court ruling and the hearings were canceled. "Congress should not sit on the sidelines as the Supreme Court considers this case".

The White House may also be stepping into the sales tax fray. Consumers who purchase from out-of-state retailers are generally supposed to pay the state taxes themselves, but few do.

Sales taxes are a crucial source of revenue in the 45 states that collect them. All but five states charge a sales tax.

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