Minneapolis Star & Tribune Company v. Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue

PETITIONER:Minneapolis Star & Tribune Company
RESPONDENT:Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue
LOCATION:Minnesota State Legislature

DOCKET NO.: 81-1839
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Minnesota Supreme Court

CITATION: 460 US 575 (1983)
ARGUED: Jan 12, 1983
DECIDED: Mar 29, 1983

Lawrence C. Brown – Argued the cause for the appellant
Paul R. Kempainen – Argued the cause for the appellee

Facts of the case

From 1967 to 1971, the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Company, a publisher of a morning and evening newspaper in Minneapolis, was exempt from a state sales and use tax provided periodic publications. In 1971, the Minnesota legislature imposed a “use tax” on the cost of paper and ink products consumed in publishing. In 1974, the legislature exempted the first $100,000 worth of ink and paper consumed a year. After the enactment of this exemption, the Star Tribune found itself paying roughly two-thirds of the total revenue raised by the tax.


Did the taxing scheme enacted by the Minnesota legislature violate the freedom of press guaranteed by the First Amendment?

Media for Minneapolis Star & Tribune Company v. Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 12, 1983 in Minneapolis Star & Tribune Company v. Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 29, 1983 in Minneapolis Star & Tribune Company v. Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Minneapolis Star & Tribune against Minnesota Commission — Commissioner of Revenue will be announced by Justice O’Connor.

Sandra Day O’Connor:

This case comes to us on appeal from the Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Minnesota imposes a sales tax on most retail sales but not on the sales of goods to be used as components in the production of other goods.

The state also imposes a complimentary use tax on goods purchased out-of-state for use in the state.

Publications are exempt from the sales tax.

In 1971, however, the state legislature amended the use tax provision to impose a tax on all ink and paper purchased by publications.

Publications became the only producers required to pay a tax on the purchase of components.

The state later amended that provision again to exempt from tax the first $100,000 worth of ink and paper consumed by a publication in a calendar year.

As a result, only a handful of newspapers incurred any liability at all for the ink and paper tax.

And the appellant, Minneapolis Star & Tribune paid roughly two thirds of the taxes collected.

It brought this action to seek a refund of the taxes paid alleging a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Minneapolis Supreme Court upheld the tax.

We now reverse.

Minnesota’s ink and paper tax is a special tax that singles out the press for treatment different from that of other taxpayers.

Special taxation of this type was among the concerns of the framers of the First Amendment.

And it necessarily places a burden upon the rights protected by the First Amendment.

Unless the state presents a governmental interest that could not be achieved without the burden on First Amendment rights, and that is sufficient to counterbalance the burden, its tax cannot survive review.

Minnesota has asserted no such interest here.

Further, Minnesota’s tax is objectionable because the structure of the exemptions is tailored to target a few publications to bear the burden of the tax while excusing all others.

Again, the state has not offered an adequate justification for this burden on First Amendment rights.

Justice Blackmun joins the opinion except footnote 12.

Justice White has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting part.

Justice Rehnquist has filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Justice O’Connor.