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.)