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This week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had restaurant owners calling “fowl” on new rules requiring bars to serve food with their drinks. The New York State Liquor Authority (NYSLA) issued guidance making clear that, “Pursuant to Executive Order 202.52, effective Friday July 17, 2020, all licensed establishments with on premises privileges (e.g. restaurants, taverns, manufacturers with tasting rooms, etc.) shall not serve alcoholic beverages unless such alcoholic beverage is accompanied by the purchase of a food item which is consistent with the food availability requirement of the license under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law.”

Today, Cuomo ruffled feathers even more at a press conference when he appeared to suggest that sandwiches were more “substantial” than chicken wings, recalling that “To be a bar, you had to have food available. soups, sandwiches, etc.” He added, “More than just hors d’ oeuvres, chicken wings. You had to have some substantive food — the lowest level of substantive food were sandwiches.”

For some, those sounded like fighting words.

Under current law (NYS Alcohol Beverage Control Law, Article 5, § 64-a, Section 8), special on-premises licensees must have food available for sale. The new COVID guidance amps that rule, requiring that patrons are seated and order a food item if they want to have a drink outside. What constitutes “food” has become something of an issue, with some establishments serving less than the bare minimum. Cuomo has vowed to crack down on businesses that aren’t complying – which is what led to today’s controversy.

Under current guidance, establishments must sell “sandwiches, soups or other foods, whether fresh, processed, precooked or frozen” if they also intend to sell alcoholic beverages. The Authority clarified that “Other foods’ are foods which are similar in quality and substance to sandwiches and soups,” further noting that “For example, salads, wings, or hotdogs would be of that quality and substance; however, a bag of chips bowl of nuts, or candy alone are not.”

A spokesperson later confirmed via Twitter that wings qualify as “substantive food.” And he did it not once, but twice:

But what about sandwiches? @CrimeADay (a must-follow on Twitter in my opinion) decided to resolve sandwich-gate by heading to the ultimate authority on food: tax law.

Tax law has actually been useful in settling a lot of “is it or isn’t it” debates including whether Pringles are actually potato chips (they’re not) and how many doughnuts constitutes a meal (no more than five in Virginia).

In New York, there is an actual Tax Bulletin on Sandwiches (it’s TB-ST-835). @CrimeADay posted a screenshot which notes that “Sandwiches include cold and hot sandwiches of every kind that are prepared and ready to be eaten, whether made on bread, on bagels, on rolls, in pitas, in wraps, or otherwise, and regardless of the filling or number of layers. A sandwich can be as simple as a buttered bagel or roll, or as elaborate as a six-foot, toasted submarine sandwich.”

The bulletin goes on to note examples of taxable sandwiches, including burritos (but not tacos), “cheese-steak sandwiches,” and hot dogs. There’s a lot to parse here, but I offer three things to consider:

  • I don’t understand how something that can also be purchased from a freezer (burrito) can be regarded as a sandwich;
  • You can’t trust a New York cheesesteak because you simply don’t hyphenate cheesesteak. Get your cheesesteaks from a city where they can both prepare and spell them correctly (Philadelphia); and
  • By law in New York, hot dogs are sandwiches (I don’t write the rules, I just report them).

So there you have it. You know what a sandwich is (and isn’t). And under the guidance in New York, sandwich or wings and booze, yes. Nuts/hors d’oeuvres/candy and alcohol, no.

Failure to follow the rules – and racking up three COVID-19 violations – can result in a suspension of an establishment’s liquor license. Cuomo reported earlier this week that the NYSLA has suspended 27 bar and restaurant alcohol licenses for violations of social distancing rules, including four in New York City and Long Island.

The new rules remind some of the Raines Liquor Tax Law, sometimes just referred to as “Raines Law.” The law, passed in New York in 1896, was named for legislator John Raines (you can read his thoughts here). Among other things, it made the sale of liquor illegal on Sundays. However, there was an exception: bars could sell liquor on any day of the week if sold at a hotel. A hotel was defined as a place that served food and had at least 10 rooms for rent. Bar owners scurried to bring in beds and served – and sometimes recycled – the barest of meals. You can imagine that it didn’t go well: the law was eventually repealed in 1923 (yes, three years after Prohibition began).

More than 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader in the civil rights movement, was on the receiving end of repeated harassment by tax authorities. Inquiries into Dr. King’s finances were not new: He was investigated in two separate states (Georgia and Alabama) on numerous occasions and together with his legal team and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), Dr. King was repeatedly investigated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

It was clear to many of his supporters that Dr. King was targeted because of the color of his skin and the words that he dared to speak about inequality. In 1960, he made news as the first person ever criminally charged in the state of Alabama on tax fraud (you can read the statement issued “Committee to Defend Martin Luther King, Jr.” accusing the state of Alabama of falsely distorting Dr. King’s 1958 income tax return in an attempt to indict him here).

After his indictment, Dr. King was asked by a reporter, “Have your income tax returns been investigated before?” He replied, “Oh yes, they have been investigated two or three times before. This is nothing new.” The case would eventually go to trial.

On today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as I always do, I am reposting an article that I wrote years ago about that trial and the legal profession. You might have seen it before: it remains one of my favorite posts to this day. Enjoy!


I’ll be frank. I don’t always love being a lawyer.

When I was a little girl, I used to watch Perry Mason with my grandfather on TBS. That constituted my entire legal experience before entering law school. And it was flawed.

You see, on TV, none of the lawyers lied to Perry Mason over the phone about being amenable to a continuance and then told the Clerk of Court differently. Nobody faxed Perry Mason a witness list the day before a hearing along with evidence that they “forgot” to send prior. A lawyer didn’t claim proper service on Perry Mason and then fail to deliver the notices to his law offices. You never saw a lawyer represent clients who had sent Perry Mason death threats via email in an attempt to assert that Mr. Mason was the one being unreasonable. You didn’t see cases drag on for years and years (yes, plural) because counsel just couldn’t get it together enough to resolve the matter. On TV, no matter how dire, how dramatic, there was ultimately justice.

The law is supposed to be about justice, about finding the truth. And increasingly it feels like it’s not. It’s more about touting your wares, putting yourself on commercials during daytime television standing in front of legal books shouting about maximizing money, about doing anything to get paid. And that is sad.

A few months ago, I attended a hearing that made me question my role in the law. You’re probably assuming that the hearing somehow didn’t go well. That isn’t true. It went remarkably well. Our client was an excellent witness. The judge was fair and very accommodating. We walked out of the hearing knowing that we had done a good job. The thing was, I felt relieved that it was over. I was happy for my clients. But I wasn’t happy for me. Truth be told, I hated every minute of preparing for the case. Well, not every minute. The theory, the strategy? That I didn’t mind. Our strategy was simply to tell our story. And we somehow felt that should be enough. In the end, I think it was.

But the getting there? The games? The complete lack of professionalism exhibited by opposing counsel? Lying about continuances? Surprise witnesses? Last-minute evidence? Maybe that seems exciting on TV, but in real life, it’s not exciting. It’s sickening. It’s stressful. It’s not fair to good lawyers who spend their time crafting a case. It’s not fair to clients who don’t know what to expect in the courtroom. And yet somehow, month after month, this behavior doesn’t seem so unusual.

And as opposing counsel sat in her chair in her too-tight blouse with the clickety-click of her little heels on the floor, the same counsel who called my clients’ claims frivolous, the same counsel whose supervising partner at Big Law Firm once commented to me that she didn’t understand why a small firm like mine would go up against a big firm like hers, I thought about why we were all at that place, how it all happened that we were in the same room believing two different versions of the truth. I couldn’t explain it.

Later that same day, while reaching for my Moscow Mule (yes, my favorite cocktail du jour, even before Rachael Ray put it in her magazine last month – grr) at the Union League, I understood why the partner at my former firm kept a bottle of wine in his desk: the pressure of being a lawyer, the pressure of having to win, it’s a lot to take in. And while other professions can often look to each other for reassurance, we don’t really have that in the legal profession with few exceptions. It is, by its very nature, adversarial. It is competitive. It is cutthroat. And me? I am not. Of course, I like to win. I like to think that I am good at it. And then maybe I think that’s not something to be particularly proud of.

So, over the past few weeks, which have been professionally difficult, I have tried to remember why it is exactly that I became a lawyer – and what about it I used to love. And I was reminded of my favorite scene in the movie Philadelphia. The one where Andrew Beckett sums up what’s actually good about the law:

Joe Miller: What do you love about the law, Andrew?
Andrew Beckett: I… many things… uh… uh… What I love the most about the law?
Joe Miller: Yeah.
Andrew Beckett: It’s that every now and again – not often, but occasionally – you get to be a part of justice being done. That really is quite a thrill when that happens.

And so I tried to think of when that happened last – when justice was actually done. Not when I won a case or when I got a client out of trouble – that happens often enough. But remember, winning and justice aren’t the same thing. I had to think for a while.

Later, I was preparing to write a post about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I figured I’d just put up a copy of his famous “I Have A Dream” speech and call it a day. But as I researched, I found part of his autobiography which, I will confess, I had never read in full. And I saw something interesting: I knew that Dr. King had been arrested several times for various accusations, but I didn’t realize that he had been on trial for tax evasion.

Yep. On February 17, 1960, a warrant was issued for the arrest of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on charges of tax evasion. He was accused of allegedly falsifying his Alabama income tax returns for the years 1956 and 1958; he was the only person ever prosecuted under the state’s income tax perjury statute. It seemed like an inevitable victory for the government.

In his autobiography, Dr. King described the trial like this:

This case was tried before an all-white Southern jury. All of the State’s witnesses were white. The judge and the prosecutor were white. The courtroom was segregated. Passions were inflamed. Feelings ran high. The press and other communications media were hostile. Defeat seemed certain, and we in the freedom struggle braced ourselves for the inevitable. There were two men among us who persevered with the conviction that it was possible, in this context, to marshal facts and law and thus win vindication. These men were our lawyers-Negro lawyers from the North: William Ming of Chicago and Hubert Delaney from New York.

And something quite remarkable happened. On May 28, 1960, only after a few hours, Dr. King was acquitted by an all-white jury in Montgomery, Alabama (statement downloads as a PDF).

Dr. King said about his trial:

I am frank to confess that on this occasion I learned that truth and conviction in the hands of a skillful advocate could make what started out as a bigoted, prejudiced jury, choose the path of justice. I cannot help but wish in my heart that the same kind of skill and devotion which Bill Ming and Hubert Delaney accorded to me could be available to thousands of civil rights workers, to thousands of ordinary Negroes, who are every day facing prejudiced courtrooms.

And it dawned on me: no matter how many slick-haired, silver-tongued attorneys do their best to make a quick buck at the expense of the reputation of the profession, you can’t dispute that justice is attainable. And justice is good. And justice is important. And even if it is infrequent, it’s worth it when it happens.

Today, there will be lots of fireworks, parades, speeches, and hot dog eating contests to celebrate Independence Day. The day is often believed to be the day we officially gained our independence from Great Britain. But it’s a little more complicated than that: Independence Day wasn’t the end of the road to independence, it was only the beginning. Here’s what you need to know, including the role that taxes play in the story.

On July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence is exactly what it sounds like: an announcement to the world that America was declaring its independence from King George III and Great Britain – our own version of Brexit. The Declaration came more than a year (442 days) after shots were fired at Lexington, Massachusetts, considered the start of the first battle of the American Revolutionary War.

The Declaration of Independence did not mark the end of the Revolutionary War. Instead, it signaled that the United States no longer wished to accept British rule – a pretty big deal. The British had ruled the colonies since the early 17th century when the Virginia Company became the Virginia Colony in 1624, the first of the original thirteen British colonies.

The United States wasn’t the only part of the world – or even the only part of the Americas – subject to British colonization. The British had also exerted control over parts of Canada, the Caribbean, and South America.

But ruling the world is expensive. Guarding colonies and occasionally invading new lands takes money. And not everyone agrees as to who owns which lands so fighting occasionally breaks out. That’s precisely what happened in the mid-18th century when Great Britain found itself battling many countries – but primarily France – in the Seven Years’ War. When the war ended in 1763, Great Britain could declare a win against France, but the years of fighting had come at a high cost: The British government was nearly bankrupt.

King George III needed to raise revenue and quickly. What better way than a series of taxes and tariffs? And who better to tax than subjects who were far enough away – like the American colonists – to stifle the complaining? There was just one problem with this plan: The King underestimated exactly how loudly the colonists would react.

The first significant post-war tax imposed on the colonists was the Stamp Act of 1765. These stamps don’t have anything to do with postage. Instead, stamps were considered an official confirmation of compliance with a particular rule or requirement. In the case of the colonists, printed materials used in the colonies, like magazines and newspapers, had to be embossed with a revenue stamp, showing that the tax had been paid. It was a direct tax – complicated and costly – and the colonists didn’t like it. Thankfully, the Stamp Act was repealed the next year. It didn’t go away quietly, though, as Parliament declared that it had the right to pass laws in the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.”

Great Britain tried again: another attempt to raise revenue followed through a series of acts called the Townshend Acts of 1767. Individually, they were the Revenue Act of 1767, the Indemnity Act, the Commissioners of Customs Act, the Vice-Admiralty Court Act, and the New York Restraining Act. The Townshend Acts were a little bit different than the Stamp Act since they were indirect taxes on imports like tea and paper. Since the colonists didn’t directly bear the costs, King George III assumed that they wouldn’t mind as much, but he was wrong.

The colonists weren’t happy at all: a tax was a tax. Philadelphia lawyer John Dickinson spoke out against the taxes in a series of essays called “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” arguing that taxation without representation was not allowed. In the letters, he asked, “[W]hat signifies the repeal of the Stamp Act if these colonies are to lose their other privileges, by not tamely surrendering that of taxation?” He later questioned whether the British had the right to impose any tax to raise revenue without consulting with the colonists, writing, “I answer, with a total denial of the power of parliament to lay upon these colonies any “tax” whatever.” Shortly after those letters made the rounds, the Townshend Acts were partially repealed.

The “partially” repealed bit is important. In 1773, the Tea Act was introduced on top of the remaining Townshend Acts. It was the last straw for many colonists even though it wasn’t a new tax. What the Tea Act did was keep in place the duty (tax) on tea imported to the colonies already in place under the Townshend Act. And this time, the purpose of the Tea Act wasn’t to raise revenue but rather to give the East India Tea Company a trade advantage, cutting out the ability of the colonists to do business on their terms. Tax or not, the colonists viewed the Tea Act as another way they were being controlled.

The colonists protested by turning away ships carrying tea headed for the colonies. The colonists were successful in Philadelphia and New York, but not in Boston. The Governor of Massachusetts wouldn’t allow the ships to be turned away and the colonists would not let the ships unload in the harbor, creating a stand-off. On December 16, 1773, colonists snuck onto the ships and dumped out the tea, an event that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party.

The Boston Tea Party did not immediately lead to the Declaration of Independence or the Revolutionary War, even though we like to link them as though they happened in quick succession. What the Boston Tea Party did was annoy the British Parliament. As far as the British were concerned, the Boston Tea Party was the equivalent of the Americans throwing a giant tantrum and destroying their nice things. In response, the British attempted to punish the Americans through a series of laws called the Coercive Acts. Boston was hit particularly hard: Boston Harbor was closed to merchant shipping, town meetings were banned, and the British commander of North American forces was appointed the governor of Massachusetts.

The colonists had enough. They convened the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, to consider their next steps. Resistance against the British increased – that’s what led to those first shots triggering the Revolutionary War. The Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia on July 2, 1776, and voted to separate from Great Britain. Two days later, on July 4, the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted by 12 of the 13 colonies (the one holdout, New York, approved it a couple of weeks later).

The Declaration of Independence was drafted as a letter to the King. The colonists felt that it was important that the exact reasons for their unhappiness were made clear. The most extensive section of the Declaration – after the lines that we all memorized in elementary school – is that list of grievances. Of course, taxes were included:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

The word “Consent” was important. Under the British Constitution, no British subjects could be taxed without the consent of their representatives in Parliament. But the colonies didn’t elect representatives to Parliament. They were, however, taxed. The colonists considered the constant imposition of taxes without a vote to be unconstitutional – just as Dickinson had written years earlier. It was, they felt, “taxation without representation.”

The idea that the colonists had such little control over their own lives didn’t just lead to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the accompanying vote; it set the United States down the road to real independence. In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the United States formally became an independent nation. But the date that we most associate with our independence is the day that those in the Continental Congress were brave enough to officially declare it to the world: July 4.

I spent much of the weekend wandering around my old stomping grounds in Raleigh, North Carolina, with my daughter. We stopped into one of my favorite spots for dinner, and the waiter brought out the beverage list: There was practically an entire page dedicated to local beers. It was quite a change from back in the day and speaks to the popularity of craft beer in America these days (for the record, I opted for a brown ale from Lonerider). According to the Brewers Association, small and independent brewers collectively produced 25.9 million barrels and realized 4% total growth last year.

Beer is so popular that it even has its own day: National Beer Day falls on April 7 and marks the day that beer was allowed to be legally manufactured and sold following a long, dry Prohibition. On March 22, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Cullen–Harrison Act into law, which moved the U.S. away from Prohibition by allowing the manufacture and sale of beer that was approximately 4% alcohol by volume (just a little less than the average today) and some wines. After he signed, Roosevelt reportedly remarked to his aide Louis Howe, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

Prohibition would officially remain in place for a few more months, but the ability to drink beer and wine was worth cheering. Here are a few more facts about beer—and its close relationship to tax—to help you celebrate in 2019:

1. Egypt was likely the first civilization to tax beer. Queen Cleopatra imposed a tax on beer in order, she claimed, to discourage public drunkenness, though it is believed that the tax was used to raise money to fund a war with Rome.

2. Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the United States. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 42% of Americans who drink alcohol say they prefer beer, up a couple of points from last year. In 2017, the federal government collected $3.6 billion in excise taxes on domestic and imported beer.

3. In 1695, Great Britain raised taxes on beer, making gin the cheapest beverage in England. Gin was taxed at 2d (about 2 pennies) per gallon, while beer was taxed at 4 shillings 9d (about 57 pennies) per gallon. The difference in price is considered the root of a serious drinking problem in the country in the 18th century, especially among the poor.

4. In the United States, taxes on the production, distribution, and sale typically eat up 41% of the retail price of beer. That amount includes all taxes imposed on beer. In previous years, the federal excise tax was about 5 cents per drink (the nickel comes from the assumption that the average beer has an alcohol content of 4.5%).

5. If you thought the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) only lowered income taxes, you’d be mistaken. The TCJA reduced the federal excise tax on beer according to output. Those rates were reduced to $3.50 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels for domestic brewers producing fewer than 2 million barrels annually and $16 per barrel on the first 6 million barrels for all other brewers and all beer importers; the excise tax remains at $18 per barrel rate for those producing over 6 million. If those rates sound familiar, they closely mirror previously proposed legislation, including the BEER Act of 2013. There is one downside: Under tax reform, most corporate changes under tax reform are permanent and most individual changes are effective through 2025, the changes affecting the beer market will expire in 2020.

6. German beers are often labeled “Gebraut nach dem Bayerischen Reinheitsgebot von 1516,” which translates roughly to “brewed according to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516.” The law originally limited the ingredients that can be used to make beer in Germany (barley malt, hops, yeast and water) and allowed the government to tax beer. The Reinheitsgebot became an official part of the German tax code in 1919 but was largely gutted when Germany became part of the European Union.

7. To help pay for the Civil War, Congress imposed an excise tax on beer. The Revenue Act of 1862, signed into law by President Lincoln, included a tax on “all beer, lager beer, ale, porter, and other similar fermented liquors, by whatever name such liquors may be called.” It may not be popular but taxing beer wasn’t a bad idea from an economic standpoint, as it generates billions in revenue each year.

8. Arthur Guinness II—the father of Guinness stout—altered the family beer recipe to include unmalted roasted barley instead of black malt. The unmalted barley wasn’t subject to extra taxes (more on those here), which made it affordable for the Guinness family—and also made the beer’s taste distinctive. By the end of the 19th century, Guinness was the largest brewery in Europe.

9. According to the Beer Institute, directly and indirectly, the beer industry employed nearly 2.23 million Americans in 2016, providing more than $103 billion in wages and benefits. The industry pays nearly $63 billion in business, personal and consumption taxes.

10. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed a bill that raised taxes on luxuries such as furs, yachts, private jets, jewelry and expensive cars (despite the “no new taxes” pledge). That same bill nearly doubled the tax on beer. Bush called for the repeal of the tax just two years later, and while most of the taxes included in the bill were eventually repealed, the tax on beer remained in place and is still there today.

11. The most expensive state to buy a beer may be Tennessee, where state excise taxes reach a whopping $1.29 per gallon, plus sales tax, making it the highest in the country. The cheapest state to buy a beer? Wyoming, where the excise tax is just $.02 per gallon. You can see where your state ranks here (downloads as a PDF).

12. The oldest operating brewing company in the U.S. is D.G. Yuengling & Son, owned by billionaire Richard Yuengling, Jr. Yuengling (“Ying-ling” and not “Yoong-ling” or “Yang-ling”), based in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, is one of the country’s five largest beer companies, with an estimated $550 million in annual revenue in 2015. The company added a new location in Florida and won’t promise to remain in Pennsylvania, blaming the state’s tax climate in 2012: “Pennsylvania is a great location. But it’s not very business-friendly. You look for fair tax breaks, fair taxation. And the bottom line is more jobs. That’s what it’s all about.”

13. What’s the best state for craft beer? According to C+R Research, the craft beer capital is Vermont. It probably helps that Vermont has a relatively low excise tax on beer (it ranks in the middle, but more than $1/gallon less than the top). You can see how your state ranks here.

14. Sales of craft beer increased 8%, up to $26.0 billion, according to the Brewers Association, and now account for more than 23% of the beer market. California leads the way, boasting 2.2 breweries per 100,000 adults over the age of 21. You can see how your state ranks here.

15. In addition to sales of beer, “beer tourism” is a real thing. Sites like BrewTrail.com help consumers plan road trips and vacations around visits to breweries, which bring additional travel tax dollars. States and regions have gotten into the spirit, offering info on their own “ale trail” recommendations.

16. How does beer figure into the economy overall? According to a 2016 report (downloads as a PDF), the beer industry contributed more than $350 billion in economic output—equal to nearly 1.9% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

17. Cenosillicaphobia is the fear of an empty beer glass. Okay, that’s not a tax fact, of course, just a fact. Don’t live in fear: go, get a beer.

Before I went to bed last night, I double-checked my alarm and then set another one. My son was at a sleepover and had a soccer game an hour away first thing in the morning. It’s a challenge at the best of times to coordinate schedules but especially today: Time sprung ahead in some parts of the world, ours included, for Daylight Saving Time (DST).

Before 1966, laws setting dates for DST were somewhat fluid. The United States officially adopted DST during World War I—after Germany did so—but the unpopular law was soon removed. It continued to be observed sporadically in some states until World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt again signed temporary DST into law. As before, the law didn’t continue after the war.

That changed in 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson signed a bill into law calling for DST to begin on the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October each year. The dates were tweaked again, 20 years later, under Ronald Reagan, who amended DST to begin at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of April and end at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday of October. Just about 20 years later, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (downloads as a pdf) which had as its short title, “To ensure jobs for our future with secure, affordable, and reliable energy.” In addition to a number of tax breaks, the law also extended DST by four weeks—that’s why we “fall back” in November now instead of October.

The beginnings of DST are sometimes credited to Benjamin Franklin. The idea appeared in his 1784 essay, “An Economical Project,” though many are quick to point out that it was considered to be satire. In the essay, Franklin calculates the hours spent burning candles and declared:

An immense sum! that the city of Paris might save every year, by the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.

Whether Franklin actually inspired DST in the U.S. may be a matter of debate, but it’s clear that the underlying concept is what drives DST today. It’s all about energy policy and money. That’s contrary to popular opinion, which suggests DST was adopted in America in order to accommodate farmers. In fact, according to Tufts University professor Michael Downing, “That’s the complete inverse of what’s true. The farmers were the only organized lobby against daylight saving in the history of the country.” Why? Among other reasons, it left them with an hour less sunlight to get crops to market.

Instead, the DST has been linked to energy policy and saving money, often accompanied by tax changes. The Energy Policy Act of 2005—the one that extended the DST—was no exception. The Act took several years to nail down, largely because of a controversy over whether energy policy should favor fossil fuels or solar and wind power. The resulting energy policy incentives were to be implemented through a mishmash of new rules and tax credits.

One popular tax credit in the 2005 Act was for fuel-efficient vehicles (conventional hybrid vehicles). The credit, which allowed tax breaks on qualifying vehicles, expired in 2010. Tax credits for alternative vehicles still exist, including a credit for qualified two-wheel plug-in electric vehicles that was extended through 2017 as part of the former extenders package. The credit was not extended for the 2018 tax year. However, if you acquired a qualifying vehicle in 2017 but placed it in service in 2018, you may still be able to take advantage of the credit for the 2018 tax year; see the instructions for form 8936, Qualified Plug-in Electric Drive Motor Vehicle Credit (Including Qualified Two-Wheeled Plug-in Electric Vehicles), for more information.

The 2005 Act also put forward a federal tax credit for residential energy efficient property. Initially, the credit included qualified solar electric systems; qualified solar water heaters; qualified fuel cell property; qualified small wind energy property; and qualified geothermal heat pumps. Some of that credit expired after 2016, but the credit for solar electric property and solar water heating property was extended through December 31, 2021 (with a gradual step-down).

Energy efficiency improvements to residential homes, including the purchase of certain doors, windows, insulation and the like, were also part of the 2005 Act. Initially, homeowners who made qualifying improvements were generally entitled to a tax credit equal to 10% of the costs, up to a lifetime limit of $500. The credit expired at the end of 2016. However, a tax credit for certain qualifying purchases made in 2017 was re-upped retroactively as part of the 2018 Tax Extenders Agreement; the credits were not extended after January 1, 2018.

Energy-related tax credits, including those for nonbusiness energy property; two-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles and energy-efficient homes, were included in the Tax Extender and Disaster Relief Act of 2019 (you can find it here as a PDF) introduced by Senate finance chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) earlier this year. That bill was read for a second time in the Senate but has not advanced.

Tax credits often “sweeten the deal” for other policy initiatives, which is likely why the DST was extended as part of the 2005 Act. The idea behind the extension was that, by extending daylight hours, we would also cut energy consumption. If the day seems longer because it’s light out longer, it should follow that there would be less demand for electricity in the evenings. But that may not be true: It may actually cost us money.

While studies indicate a slight change in demand in the evenings, some studies have indicated that any savings are offset by more energy demand in the morning. And you can’t count out the time spent changing clocks. In 2010, Utah State University economist William F. Shughart II suggested that turning the clocks forward and backward each year results in $1.7 billion of lost opportunity cost each year in the U.S. alone. His calculations assumed that each person over the age of 18 spent about 10 minutes changing clocks instead of doing something more productive. Of course, in a digital-centric world, that number should go down. Should. But as I try to figure out which clocks inside my home actually have the right time, I’m not so sure that’s the case.

Many Americans don’t see the benefit of DST: Just 36% of those polled find it necessary. In 2013, nearly 20% of those polled believed wrongly that you’d move the clocks backward on Sunday for DST (spring ahead, folks) or aren’t quite sure what to do at all. As a result, a whopping 16% of Americans claim DST has made them early or late for an appointment because they didn’t set their clocks the right way (I feel your pain, America).

And it may even cost us hard cash. According to a study by JPMorgan Chase, there is a drop in economic activity when clocks move back (you can read the study here as a PDF).

It’s even more confusing because not everyone in the U.S. observes DST. Hawaii and Arizona (except for residents of the Navajo Nation) do not, nor do American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. Last year, a Florida bill to nix DST, the Sunshine Protection Act, passed (33-2) and was approved by the governor. The problem? By federal law, the state still requires approval from the feds. To end the confusion, three Florida legislators (Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and Representative Vern Buchanan) have reintroduced a federal law, also called the Sunshine Protection Act, to make DST permanent all year. If passed, the legislation would apply to states that participate in DST, which most states observe for eight months out of the year; last year, the bill failed to advance out of committee.

For now, DST is an annual annoyance: It’s always the second Sunday in March. So that means I’ll see you back here next year around the same time—assuming I finally get all of those clocks set.

“Read my lips: no new taxes.” Those few words, uttered by then-American presidential candidate George H. W. Bush at the 1988 Republican National Convention on August 18, became a hallmark of Bush’s presidency. When taxes did go up – a move made by Congress – voters were angry and blamed the President. But how much influence do most U.S. Presidents have over taxes? On Presidents Day, here’s the scoop on the President, tax policy and how the two often intersect.

The power to tax is found in the U.S. Constitution. The word tax appears at least ten times in the Constitution, but we typically focus on Article I, Section 8, Clause 1, the so-called “Tax and Spend Clause.” It begins:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

And the explanation for how that begins is laid out in Article 1 in Section 7, Clause 1:

All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.

Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States…

In other words, the President isn’t tasked with drafting tax legislation – that’s Congress’ job. The President signs the bill into law. So why do we assume that the President drives tax policy?

One, the President is typically surrounded by a group of advisors with some expertise in economic and tax policy who advise on these issues. That leads taxpayers to believe that the President will offer a measure of tax advice to Congress. And two, the President may set the tone for tax policy with the submission of the federal budget request (we’re assuming, of course, that spending should have some relationship to revenue).

In recent years, however, Presidents have become more aggressive in taking the lead on tax policy. According to Mark Luscombe, a Principal Analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, Presidents have made tax policy proposals a significant portion of their campaign platforms, and when elected, have frequently worked to obtain passage of those proposals relatively quickly. 

“Congress,” he says, “especially when controlled by the same party as the new president, seem most willing to work to enact those tax proposals early in the new presidency during the “post-election honeymoon” and before mid-term elections two years later.”

That allows presidents a great deal of leeway to shape tax policy. Of all of the presidents, Luscombe, a key member of the Wolters Tax Legislation team that tracks, reports and analyzes tax legislation before Congress, believes that President Ronald Reagan had the most significant influence, “especially given the number of significant pieces of tax legislation enacted during his presidency.”

According to Luscombe, Reagan started off his first year in 1981 with very large tax cuts – the very ones he had campaigned on. However, he subsequently worked with a Democratic House in 1982 and 1984 to increase taxes to counter the deficit. In 1986, Luscombe says, Reagan again worked with a Democratic House again to enact fundamental tax reform legislation.

(You can read more about Reagan and his tax policy here)

That tax reform legislation remains in place today. In fact, the changes under the Reagan Tax Reform Act were so dramatic that the Tax Code was renamed the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. Despite additions, deletions, and modifications to the Code, you’ll still see it written that way today: it’s the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.

The 1986 reform under Reagan is widely considered the most significant tax reform legislation in history. Since that time, most tax policy – including the most recent tax reform – has been short-term. Today, it’s not uncommon for changes to our tax laws, including the lowering of tax rates, remain in place for only a few years before they sunset (meaning they go back to the way that they were before). In other words, tax policy now feels tied to a particular presidency, which means that tax policy can change from administration to administration.

Is that a good thing? Luscombe says that it is probably good to review tax policy at least every four years to see if goals are being achieved. Tax policy, he explains, has come to mean not only raising needed revenue but also working to achieve various societal goals through tax policy as well. 

That was clear, for example, during World War II. Tax rates hit levels as high as 94% to help fund the war. Luscombe notes that those rates “stuck around at similar levels until 1963, probably due to the continuing Cold War after World War II.” In fact, he points out, the top tax rates didn’t dip below 91% until 1963 and not below 70% until 1981.

You can see some other tax policy changes, courtesy of Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, a leading provider of tax law information to business professionals, in this infographic.

But while regular review is good, regular, temporary changes are not necessarily desirable. “What is probably not good tax policy,” he says, “is to have so many temporary provisions and phase-ins and phase-outs in the tax code.” Tax legislation now revolves too much around ten-year budget projections that make long-term planning difficult and actually tends to frustrate some of the goals that the legislation is seeking to promote.

Ten years isn’t just a random figure. Under the Byrd rule, named after former West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, any legislation that would significantly increase the federal deficit beyond the ten-year budget window (or is otherwise “extraneous”) can be blocked. The result is that instead of a simple majority to push it through Congress, any such legislation would need 60 votes. When Congress can’t agree beyond a simple majority on tax policy, for example, they necessarily must frame it to only last for a few years. With respect to the last tax reform efforts, the current provisions which were effective in 2018 will expire after 2025.

(You can read more about the Byrd rule and our most recent tax reform here.)

So what does that mean for the future? Luscombe doesn’t have a crystal ball and of course, can’t predict the future, but suggests that with the current split government, “it is possible Congress may not be quick to make permanent the temporary provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in 2017.” In other words, don’t count on those tax cuts being made permanent. 

As a country, we’ve grown used to the idea that our leaders could be investigated by authorities for allegations ranging from perjury to collusion. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are quick to throw out the words “witch hunt” to describe and discount the idea that they might have been engaged in wrong-doing. Witch hunt or not, it happens so often that we’ve almost grown dismissive of headlines that any of our leaders could be under investigation.

More than 50 years ago, however, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader in the civil rights movement, was on the receiving end of repeated harassment by tax authorities. Inquiries into Dr. King’s finances were not new: He was investigated in two separate states (Georgia and Alabama) on numerous occasions and together with his legal team and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), Dr. King was repeatedly investigated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

It was clear to many of his supporters that Dr. King was targeted because of the color of his skin and the words that he dared to speak about inequality. In 1960, he made news as the first person ever criminally charged in the state of Alabama on tax fraud (you can read the statement issued “Committee to Defend Martin Luther King, Jr.” accusing the state of Alabama of falsely distorting Dr. King’s 1958 income tax return in an attempt to indict him here).

After his indictment, Dr. King was asked by a reporter, “Have your income tax returns been investigated before?”

He replied, “Oh yes, they have been investigated two or three times before. This is nothing new.”

(You can see the interview with Dr. King on this WSB-TV news film clip.) The case would eventually go to trial. The outcome was surprising.

On today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as I always do, I am reposting an article that I wrote years ago about that trial and the legal profession. You might have seen it before: it remains one of my favorite posts to this day. Enjoy!


I’ll be frank. I don’t always love being a lawyer.

When I was a little girl, I used to watch Perry Mason with my grandfather on TBS. That constituted my entire legal experience before entering law school. And it was flawed.

You see, on TV, none of the lawyers lied to Perry Mason over the phone about being amenable to a continuance and then told the Clerk of Court differently. Nobody faxed Perry Mason a witness list the day before a hearing along with evidence that they “forgot” to send prior. A lawyer didn’t claim proper service on Perry Mason and then fail to deliver the notices to his law offices. You never saw a lawyer represent clients who had sent Perry Mason death threats via email in an attempt to assert that Mr. Mason was the one being unreasonable. You didn’t see cases drag on for years and years (yes, plural) because counsel just couldn’t get it together enough to resolve the matter. On TV, no matter how dire, how dramatic, there was ultimately justice.

The law is supposed to be about justice, about finding the truth. And increasingly it feels like it’s not. It’s more about touting your wares, putting yourself on commercials during daytime television standing in front of legal books shouting about maximizing money, about doing anything to get paid. And that is sad.

A few months ago, I attended a hearing that made me question my role in the law. You’re probably assuming that the hearing somehow didn’t go well. That isn’t true. It went remarkably well. Our client was an excellent witness. The judge was fair and very accommodating. We walked out of the hearing knowing that we had done a good job. The thing was, I felt relieved that it was over. I was happy for my clients. But I wasn’t happy for me. Truth be told, I hated every minute of preparing for the case. Well, not every minute. The theory, the strategy? That I didn’t mind. Our strategy was simply to tell our story. And we somehow felt that should be enough. In the end, I think it was.

But the getting there? The games? The complete lack of professionalism exhibited by opposing counsel? Lying about continuances? Surprise witnesses? Last minute evidence? Maybe that seems exciting on TV, but in real life, it’s not exciting. It’s sickening. It’s stressful. It’s not fair to good lawyers who spend their time crafting a case. It’s not fair to clients who don’t know what to expect in the courtroom. And yet somehow, month after month, this behavior doesn’t seem so unusual.

And as opposing counsel sat in her chair in her too tight blouse with the clickety-click of her little heels on the floor, the same counsel who called my clients’ claims frivolous, the same counsel whose supervising partner at Big Law Firm once commented to me that she didn’t understand why a small firm like mine would go up against a big firm like hers, I thought about why we were all at that place, how it all happened that we were in the same room believing two different versions of the truth. I couldn’t explain it.

Later that same day, while reaching for my Moscow Mule (yes, my favorite cocktail du jour, even before Rachael Ray put it in her magazine last month – grr) at the Union League, I understood why the partner at my former firm kept a bottle of wine in his desk: the pressure of being a lawyer, the pressure of having to win, it’s a lot to take in. And while other professions can often look to each other for reassurance, we don’t really have that in the legal profession with few exceptions. It is, by its very nature, adversarial. It is competitive. It is cutthroat. And me? I am not. Of course, I like to win. I like to think that I am good at it. And then maybe I think that’s not something to be particularly proud of.

So, over the past few weeks, which have been professionally difficult, I have tried to remember why it is exactly that I became a lawyer – and what about it I used to love. And I was reminded of my favorite scene in the movie Philadelphia. The one where Andrew Beckett sums up what’s actually good about the law:

Joe Miller: What do you love about the law, Andrew?
Andrew Beckett: I… many things… uh… uh… What I love the most about the law?
Joe Miller: Yeah.
Andrew Beckett: It’s that every now and again – not often, but occasionally – you get to be a part of justice being done. That really is quite a thrill when that happens.

And so I tried to think of when that happened last – when justice was actually done. Not when I won a case or when I got a client out of trouble – that happens often enough. But remember, winning and justice aren’t the same thing. I had to think for a while.

Later, I was preparing to write a post about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I figured I’d just put up a copy of his famous “I Have A Dream” speech and call it a day. But as I researched, I found part of his autobiography which, I will confess, I had never read in full. And I saw something interesting: I knew that Dr. King had been arrested several times for various accusations, but I didn’t realize that he had been on trial for tax evasion.

Yep. On February 17, 1960, a warrant was issued for the arrest of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on charges of tax evasion. He was accused of allegedly falsifying his Alabama income tax returns for the years 1956 and 1958; he was the only person ever prosecuted under the state’s income tax perjury statute. It seemed like an inevitable victory for the government.

In his autobiography, Dr. King described the trial like this:

This case was tried before an all-white Southern jury. All of the State’s witnesses were white. The judge and the prosecutor were white. The courtroom was segregated. Passions were inflamed. Feelings ran high. The press and other communications media were hostile. Defeat seemed certain, and we in the freedom struggle braced ourselves for the inevitable. There were two men among us who persevered with the conviction that it was possible, in this context, to marshal facts and law and thus win vindication. These men were our lawyers-Negro lawyers from the North: William Ming of Chicago and Hubert Delaney from New York.

And something quite remarkable happened. On May 28, 1960, only after a few hours, Dr. King was acquitted by an all-white jury in Montgomery, Alabama (statement downloads as a PDF).

Dr. King said about his trial:

I am frank to confess that on this occasion I learned that truth and conviction in the hands of a skillful advocate could make what started out as a bigoted, prejudiced jury, choose the path of justice. I cannot help but wish in my heart that the same kind of skill and devotion which Bill Ming and Hubert Delaney accorded to me could be available to thousands of civil rights workers, to thousands of ordinary Negroes, who are every day facing prejudiced courtrooms.

And it dawned on me: no matter how many slick-haired, silver-tongued attorneys do their best to make a quick buck at the expense of the reputation of the profession, you can’t dispute that justice is attainable. And justice is good. And justice is important. And even if it is infrequent, it’s worth it when it happens.

As voters head to the polls to cast ballots in local, state and federal elections, questions linger. It’s been an ugly political season. Allegations of voter fraud, voter tampering, and voter suppression have been in constant circulation and might make you think that our voting system is irretrievably broken. The truth is that voting in America has never been without controversy – going all the way back to the poll tax.

A poll tax is generally considered a fee paid for the right to vote. And while the poll tax is most often associated with suppressing the African American vote during the 1960s, those in power required voters to pay poll taxes long before that time. For example, colonists paid poll taxes just before the American Revolution – part of that whole taxation without representation bit that kept Americans unhappy.

Poll taxes in the colonies, and subsequently in the states, weren’t always linked directly to voting. Instead, they were per person taxes. The word poll came from Low German meaning “head” and was extended to mean individual. By the 1690s, the phrase “poll tax” translated to “head tax” and was considered in a number of countries. The idea was that everyone should pay some tax, even those who didn’t make enough money or own enough assets to be subjected to income and property taxes. If everyone paid tax, the result was more revenue for the government.

In 1870, Congress passed the 15th Amendment which declared citizens should be allowed to vote without regard to race, color or prior history of slavery, stating:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

(By citizens, they meant men. Women didn’t win the vote in the United States until 1920.)

The amendment didn’t sit well with many in power, especially those in southern states. In an effort to suppress the vote, eleven states in the south, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, imposed a form of poll tax on its residents.

(It should be noted, however, that poll taxes weren’t restricted to the south, as my state of Pennsylvania had one in place until 1933.)

Administration of the tax varied from state to state but generally required residents to pay the tax to register to vote or provide proof of payment of the tax to vote. Failure to provide a receipt or other proof of payment meant that you could not vote. In some states, poll taxes had to be paid for a few years before you could be eligible to vote. In Alabama, the poll tax was cumulative; a law requiring men to pay all that was due from the age of twenty-one was written into the 1901 state constitution. In Georgia, the 1926 Code stipulated that a resident “shall have paid all taxes which may have been required of him” since 1877.

Residents charged that the rules were not enforced uniformly. Typically election officers had the discretion to demand that a voter produce a poll tax receipt. To make it more difficult or intimidating, laws often stipulated that poll taxes be paid only in cash and at specific locations, like the local police station.

The efforts to keep voters of color home paid off. In the state of Mississippi, fewer than 9,000 of the 147,000 voting-age African Americans were registered to vote after 1890. In Louisiana, where more than 130,000 black voters had been registered in 1896, the number plummeted to 1,342 by 1904.

While some tried to justify the poll tax, claiming that it was simply a revenue raiser, others were more plain-spoken. An editorial in the Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News boldly declared:

This newspaper believes in white supremacy, and it believes that the poll tax is one of the essentials for the preservation of white supremacy.

The question of whether the poll tax was constitutional predictably landed in court. In 1937, in Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277 (1937), the United States Supreme Court ruled that the state of Georgia could impose a poll tax since “It was not the purpose of the Nineteenth Amendment to limit the taxing power of the State.” Further, the court explained that states were entitled to make their own laws, writing, “The payment of poll taxes as a prerequisite to voting is a familiar and reasonable regulation long enforced in many states and for more than a century in Georgia.”

In 1951, a similar case was heard in federal court. Unlike the plaintiff in Breedlove who was a white man, the plaintiff in Butler v. Thompson, 97 F. Supp. 17 (E.D. Va. 1951), was an African-American woman who “alleged that, apart from the payment of her poll taxes” she was “in every way qualified to register under the Virginia law as a voter.” The courts again took the position that states were entitled to make their own laws, finding that “it is well settled that a law that is fair on its face and is also fairly administered is not rendered invalid by the evil motives of its draftsmen.” The plaintiff’s case was dismissed.

However, times were changing. Even as poll taxes were confirmed in the courts, they were losing popularity. By 1962, just five southern states had poll taxes on the books: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia. That same year, the House passed the 24th Amendment, outlawing the poll tax as a voting requirement in federal elections by a vote of 295 to 86. The Amendment did not become part of the Constitution, however, until 1964 when South Dakota ratified it. Today, eight states have still not ratified the amendment.

The 24th Amendment states:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

President Lyndon B. Johnson called the amendment a “triumph of liberty over restriction.” “It is a verification of people’s rights, which are rooted so deeply in the mainstream of this nation’s history,” he said.

On August 6, 1965, President Johnson also signed the Voting Rights Act into law which authorized the U.S. Attorney General to investigate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections. By the end of the year, 250,000 new voters of color had been registered. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was never made permanent but has been reauthorized many times.

Predictably, those states which still imposed a poll tax resented the move and quickly seized upon the language which appeared to limit the application to federal elections. According to the New York Times, Mississippi Attorney General, Joe Patterson, said, “Some machinery will have to be set up to reckon with two sets of voters‐one for state elections and one for national elections.”

A test shot was fired in Virginia where the Supreme Court ruled that “The poll tax is abolished absolutely as a prerequisite to voting in federal elections, and no equivalent or milder substitute may be imposed.” The case, Harman v. Forssenius, 380 U.S. 528 (1965), focused on a Virginia law put in place in response to the 24th Amendment. Virginia had eliminated their existing mandatory poll tax and substituted a provision allowing voters to choose to pay the poll tax or file a certificate of residence six months before the election. Chief Justice Warren wrote that the new law was “repugnant to the Twenty-fourth Amendment” as he echoed statements from earlier courts that “the right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government.”

The matter would go to court again. In 1966, the Supreme Court specifically overruled Breedlove, finding in Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966) that “A State’s conditioning of the right to vote on the payment of a fee or tax violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” In reaching the decision, Justice Douglas noted that “Voter qualifications have no relation to wealth nor to paying or not paying this or any other tax.”

Quoting a previous opinion in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U. S. 533, 377 U. S. 561-562, Justice Douglas opined, “A citizen, a qualified voter, is no more nor no less so because he lives in the city or on the farm… The Equal Protection Clause demands no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens, of all places as well as of all races.”

Specifically tackling the states’ argument that they should be allowed to fix voting requirements inside their own borders, Douglas disagreed, writing, “we must remember that the interest of the State, when it comes to voting, is limited to the power to fix qualifications. Wealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one’s ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process. Lines drawn on the basis of wealth or property, like those of race are traditionally disfavored. To introduce wealth or payment of a fee as a measure of a voter’s qualifications is to introduce a capricious or irrelevant factor. The degree of the discrimination is irrelevant.”
He concluded, “[T]o repeat, wealth or fee paying has, in our view, no relation to voting qualifications; the right to vote is too precious, too fundamental to be so burdened or conditioned.”

Today, no state has a poll tax on the books.

#Vote

Al Capone reportedly boasted, “They can’t collect legal taxes from illegal money.” He found that wasn’t true on this day in 1931 when he was sentenced to prison for tax evasion.

Better known as Al Capone, Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899 to Italian immigrants. His parents, Gabriele Capone and Teresa Raiola, found working-class jobs and settled into their new lives. Capone, however, had trouble fitting in and was expelled from school at age 14 for hitting a teacher.

After he left school, Capone tried his hand at odd jobs, but nothing stuck. Capone eventually turned to a friend, Johnny “The Fox” Torrio. Torrio was just getting started building an empire but would go on to be called “the father of American gangsterdom” by Elmer Irey, the first chief of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Enforcement Branch (now referred to as the IRS Criminal Investigation Division).

Torrio introduced Capone to Frankie Yale—and his first real taste of the underworld. Yale owned a number of clubs where patrons could go to drink, gamble and pay for sex, and gave Capone a job as a bouncer and bartender. While at work, Capone, who wasn’t known for being even-tempered (remember the teacher?) got into a fight. During the melee, he was slashed across his left cheek three times with a knife, leaving a permanent scar and earning the nickname “Scarface.” Supposedly, the fight was over a girl.

At age 18, Capone met and married Mae Coughlin. Soon after, the couple had their first child, Albert Francis “Sonny” Capone. Sonny’s birth gave Capone pause—briefly—to consider making an honest living. The family moved to Baltimore where Capone intended to become a bookkeeper. But Capone couldn’t resist the allure of the gangster life, and when Torrio asked Capone to move to Chicago to help run his mob empire, it was an offer that Capone couldn’t refuse.

But the dark side quickly caught up to Torrio. In 1925 he barely survived an assassination attempt by rival mobsters Hymie “The Pole” Weiss, Vincent “The Schemer” Drucci and George “Bugs” Moran. After spending three weeks in the hospital, and even more time in prison, Torrio wanted out of the mob. He decided to leave Chicago, handing over control of the empire to Capone.

Capone was a natural at making money and quickly expanded the business. By the mid-1920s, Capone was reportedly taking home nearly $60 million annually ($878 million in today’s dollars), and his wealth continued to grow, reportedly topping $100 million ($1.5 billion in today’s dollars).

As Capone’s empire grew, so did his penchant for violence. The bodies piled up in Chicago, and most had Capone’s fingerprints all over them. The feds, however, couldn’t make charges of violence stick against Capone. But something happened in 1927—miles away from Chicago—that would prove to be a turning point. On May 16, 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Sullivan that “[g]ains from illicit traffic in liquor are subject to the income tax would be taxable” by the feds (274 U.S. 259). It was just the ruling the feds needed.

(Fun footnote: The Justices noted in Sullivan that “It is urged that if a return were made the defendant would be entitled to deduct illegal expenses such as bribery. This by no means follows but it will be time enough to consider the question when a taxpayer has the temerity to raise it.”)

In 1928 the Secretary of the Treasury summoned Irey and told him to simply “get Capone.” Irey is said to have replied, “We’ll get right on it.”
Even as Irey was investigating Capone, the violence continued. The lawlessness culminated on February 14, 1929, when gunmen allegedly hired by Capone posed as police officers before executing seven members of Bugs Moran’s gang. One of the victims, Frank Gusenberg, lived long enough to tell police, “Nobody shot me.”

What triggered the dispute? Likely territory. Moran controlled the North Side of Chicago, while Capone controlled the South Side.

Moran escaped the violence, but just barely: He was late to the scene and missed the shootings by minutes. A few days later, he allegedly told reporters, “Only Capone kills like that.” It was a line so famous that it made it into the movies.

Capone was in Miami at the time of the shootings but was immediately blamed for what came to be known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. There were no witnesses who lived to tell the tale, there was no evidence, and no one was ever prosecuted. However, the feds believed that Capone was responsible, and in 1930, Capone was dubbed “Public Enemy Number One” (his older brother, Ralph “Bottles” Capone would earn the title “Public Enemy Number Three”).

Capone grew more bold, believing that he was untouchable. He failed to answer a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury, claiming he had bronchial pneumonia and was confined to bed rest. He was arrested on contempt charges after prosecutors produced evidence that he had been gambling at the track and cruising in the Bahamas. He was released on bond but was re-arrested on concealed weapons charges and sentenced to prison at Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, where he reportedly lived in luxury amid French furniture, plush rugs and a Victrola radio in his cell.

During this time, the feds were quietly building a case against Capone. Despite his public and extravagant lifestyle, Capone never filed a federal income tax return, claiming that he had no taxable income. IRS Special Agent Frank Wilson and the “T-Men” followed the money, gathering evidence that Capone had made millions of dollars on income that was never taxed. It paid off: Capone was indicted on 22 counts of federal income tax evasion. He wasn’t alone: his brother, Ralph, Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, Frank Nitti and others were also charged.

Capone bragged that he had reached a plea agreement that would have sent him to jail for just two years. The judge refused to accept the deal, and the case went to trial. Capone was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in prison. He was fined $50,000 ($847,111 in today’s dollars), charged court costs and ordered to pay back taxes of $215,000 (now, $3,642,576).
Capone’s first prison stop was Atlanta. Initially, Capone bribed prison officials to get what he wanted, just as he had done in Philadelphia, reportedly gathering a mirror, typewriter, rugs, and a set of encyclopedias.

When he was found out, he was punished by being relocated to Alcatraz.
Alcatraz proved to be Capone’s undoing. The warden, James Aloysius Johnston, wasn’t as easily swayed as those Capone had previously encountered. When Johnston asked Capone his name, the mobster allegedly responded, “You know who I am.” Johnston is said to have retorted, “Here you are now known as AZ-85.” Capone eventually admitted, “It looks like Alcatraz has got me licked.”

Capone spent more than four years at Alcatraz, where he worked doing jobs like laundry (as most grade school kids know thanks to Gennifer Choldenko). During his sentence, his health eventually got the best of him: He had contracted syphilis years before, and it worsened, leading to “intermittent mental disturbances.”

Capone moved again in 1939, this time to a mental hospital, to serve out the remainder of his sentence before retiring to Florida. Before his death, his physician determined that he had deteriorated to the point where he had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. Capone, once the most feared man in America, died on January 25, 1947, at the age of 48.

On July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence is exactly what it sounds like: an announcement to the world that the United States of America was declaring its independence from King George III and Great Britain – a sort of Brexit of our own. The declaration came more than a year (442 days) after shots were fired at Lexington, Massachusetts, considered the beginning of the first battle of the American Revolutionary War.

The Declaration of Independence did not mark the end of the Revolutionary War. It was quite the opposite. It signaled that the United States no longer wished to accept British rule. This was a big deal. The British had ruled the colonies since the early 17th century when the Virginia Company became the Virginia Colony in 1624, the first of the original thirteen British colonies.
The United States wasn’t the only part of the world – or even the only part of the Americas – subject to British colonization. The British had also exerted control over parts of Canada, the Caribbean, and South America.

But ruling the world gets expensive. Guarding colonies and occasionally invading new lands takes money. And not everyone agrees as to who owns which lands so fighting occasionally breaks out. That’s precisely what happened in the mid-18th century when Great Britain found itself battling a number of countries – but primarily France – in the Seven Years’ War. When the war ended in 1763, Great Britain could declare a win against France but the years of fighting had come at a significant cost: The British government was nearly bankrupt.

King George III needed to raise revenue, and quickly. What better way than a series of taxes and tariffs? And who better to tax than subjects who were far enough away – like the American colonists – to stifle the complaining? There was just one problem with this plan: The King underestimated exactly how loudly the colonists would react.

The first significant post-war tax imposed on the colonists was the Stamp Act of 1765. Stamps, as they apply to taxes, don’t have anything to do with postage. Rather, stamps are an official confirmation of compliance with a certain rule or requirement. In this case, materials which were printed and used in the colonies, like magazines and newspapers, were required to be produced on stamped paper and embossed with a revenue stamp, confirming that tax had been paid. Colonists, of course, didn’t like it, and the Stamp Act was repealed the next year. The tax didn’t go away quietly, though, as Parliament declared that it had the right to pass laws in the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.”

A second attempt at raising revenue followed through a series of acts called the Townshend Acts of 1767. Individually, they were the Revenue Act of 1767, the Indemnity Act, the Commissioners of Customs Act, the Vice Admiralty Court Act, and the New York Restraining Act. The Townshend Acts were a little bit different than the Stamp Act since they were indirect taxes on imports. Since the colonists didn’t directly bear the costs, King George III assumed that they would be less offensive to the colonists, but he was wrong.

The colonists weren’t happy – a tax was a tax. They were spurred on by Philadelphia lawyer John Dickinson, who wrote a series of essays called “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” arguing that taxation without representation was not allowed. In the letters, he asked, “[W]hat signifies the repeal of the Stamp Act, if these colonies are to lose their other privileges, by not tamely surrendering that of taxation?” He later questioned whether the British had the right to impose any tax to raise revenue without consulting with the colonists, writing “I answer, with a total denial of the power of parliament to lay upon these colonies any “tax” whatever.” Shortly after, the Townshend Acts were partially repealed.

The partially repealed bit is important. In 1773, the Tea Act was imposed on top of the remaining Townshend Acts. It was the last straw for many colonists even though it wasn’t a new tax. What the Tea Act did was keep in place the duty (tax) on tea imported to the colonies (already in place under the Townshend Act). And the purpose of the Tea Act wasn’t to raise revenue but rather to give the East India Tea Company a trade advantage, cutting out the ability of the colonists to do business on their terms. Tax or not, the colonists viewed the Tea Act as another way they were being controlled.

The colonists figured that the best way to stand up to the Tea Act was to turn away ships carrying tea headed for the colonies. The colonists were able to do so in Philadelphia and New York, but not in Boston. The Governor of Massachusetts wouldn’t allow the ships to be turned back and the colonists would not let the ships to unload in the harbor. It was a stand-off. To end it, colonists snuck onto the ships and dumped out the tea – the event that you and I call the Boston Tea Party.

The Boston Tea Party did not immediately lead to the Declaration of Independence or the Revolutionary War, even though we like to link them as though they happened in quick succession. The Tea Party took place on December 16, 1773, long before the shots at Lexington and before the Declaration of Independence. What the Boston Tea Party did do pretty quickly, however, was annoy British Parliament. As far as the British were concerned, the Boston Tea Party was more or less the equivalent of the Americans throwing a giant tantrum and destroying their nice things. As a result, the British attempted to punish the Americans through a series of laws called the Coercive Acts. Under the Coercive Acts, among other things, Boston Harbor was closed to merchant shipping, town meetings were banned, and the British commander of North American forces was appointed the governor of Massachusetts.

The colonists had enough. They convened the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, to consider their next steps. Resistance against the British increased – that’s what led to those first shots in Massachusetts triggering the Revolutionary War. Finally, the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia. On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to separate from Great Britain. Two days later, on July 4, the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted by 12 of the 13 colonies (the one holdout, New York, approved it a couple of weeks later).

The Declaration of Independence was drafted as a letter to the King. The colonists felt that it was important that the exact reasons for their unhappiness were made clear. The largest section of the Declaration – after the lines that we all memorized in elementary school – is that list of grievances. Of course, taxes were included:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

The word “Consent” was important. Under the British Constitution, no British subjects could be taxed without the consent of their representatives in Parliament. But the colonies didn’t elect representatives to Parliament. They were, however, clearly being taxed. The colonists considered the constant imposition of taxes without a vote to be unconstitutional – just as Dickinson had written years earlier. It was, they felt, “taxation without representation.”

The idea that the colonists had such little control over their own lives didn’t just lead to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the accompanying vote; it set the United States down the road to real independence. In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the United States formally became an independent nation. But the date that we most associate with our independence is the day that those in the Continental Congress were brave enough to officially declare it to the world: July 4.
Happy Independence Day!