Monthly Archives: October 2023
In Moore v. United States, the Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to a tax on an unrealized financial gain. The core of the challenge is that the tax exceed Congress’s power under the 16th Amendment, which gave it the power to levy direct taxes, such as per-person income taxes. Lurking not far in the background of this dispute is the issue of whether a hypothetical wealth tax would even be constitutional.
Professors Vikram Amar and Akhil Amar have submitted one of the best amicus briefs I’ve ever read. Written with some pizazz, it argues that the case is being fought on the wrong grounds. The 16th Amendment has nothing to do with this dispute, they argue, because the tax on unrealized gains is not a direct tax at all, as the term was originally understood, and as construed unanimously by the Supreme Court in Hylton v. United States, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 171 (1796). (Spotted via Balkanization.)
It seems a narrow majority of the House GOP conference has plumped for ultra-rightist but somewhat establishment Rep. Steve Scalise over ultra-rightist bomb-thrower Rep. Jim Jordan as its choice for Speaker of the House–an office the Washington Post recently called ‘the worst job in Washington’.
But it also seems as though there currently are enough House GOP rebels to prevent Scalise from having the necessary 217 votes to get elected over Democratic opposition. So we remain in a state of paralysis while Gaza burns and Ukraine hangs in the wind. The chances that Scalise would cut a deal with Democrats to get elected, pass a budget, seem remote.
When looking for culprits for this state of affairs, in addition to the obvious do not forget the American campaign finance system, which allows unlimited dark money in federal campaigns, and the increasingly gerrymandered districts in so many states in which partisan majorities work to create as many safe seats as they can. If fewer districts are competitive, there is no incentive to tack to the center, nor to work with the opposition. Indeed, any sign of cooperation becomes a dangerous trait, as it leads to primary opponents.