Progressive Era Debates Over Unconstitutional Income Tax Legislation and the Sixteenth Amendment

Sudduth, Wesley, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Goluboff, Risa, School of Law, University of Virginia

This thesis explores ideas over judicial supremacy, constitutional amendment, and the relationship between Congress and the courts, as understood through the lens of a debate that took place in Congress in 1909. In the 1895 decision Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the first ever peacetime federal income tax on the grounds that it was an unapportioned “direct tax,” and therefore invalid under the federal Constitution. In 1909, some federal lawmakers pursued a strategy of reenacting an essentially equivalent “unconstitutional” federal income tax as a method of asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its controversial reasoning in Pollock. This idea elicited serious political and academic consideration. The 1909 debate provides an interesting and historically significant window into a period of doctrinal uncertainty and potential in the relationship between Congress and the courts at the beginning of the Lochner era.

MA (Master of Arts)
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