National Geographic Society v. California Board of Equalization

PETITIONER: National Geographic Society
RESPONDENT: California Board of Equalization
LOCATION: North Carolina Board of Agriculture

DOCKET NO.: 75-1868
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of California

CITATION: 430 US 551 (1977)
ARGUED: Feb 23, 1977
DECIDED: Apr 04, 1977

ADVOCATES:
Arthur B. Hanson - for appellant
Philip M. Plant -

Facts of the case

Question

Media for National Geographic Society v. California Board of Equalization

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 23, 1977 in National Geographic Society v. California Board of Equalization

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 04, 1977 in National Geographic Society v. California Board of Equalization

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

The other case, 75-1868, is a National Geographic Society versus California.

The National Geographic Society operates a mail order business from this city, Washington D.C. and in the tax years involved in this case, it shipped by mail from Washington some $83,500.00 of maps, atlases, globes and books to California residence, who had ordered the goods by mail from that State.

California levied a use tax with respect to the California purchases and also imposed an obligation upon National Geographic to collect and pay the use tax.

Now, states necessarily posed a burden of collecting and paying the tax in the out of State seller when they can.

The impracticability of its collection from the multitude of individual purchasers is obvious.

However, not every out of State seller may constitutionally be made liable to collect and pay the use tax.

The Commerce Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause tolerate imposition of that duty, only when it appears that the facts demonstrate some definite length, some minimum connection between the State and the person upon whom it seeks to impose that duty.

Here, California found the necessary connection and the fact that the National Geographic Society maintains two offices in California, one in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles.

They are small offices of not more than four employees each.

However, their activities have nothing whatever to do with the mail order sales.

The Society publishes the National Geographic Magazine and the activities of the two offices are strictly confined to soliciting advertising for that magazine.

The California Supreme Court held nevertheless that the activities at the offices were irrelevant that they are maintenance by the society, sufficed to show the requisite definite length or minimum connection constitutionally don't impose upon the society its duty to collect and pay the use tax.

We agree and we affirm, however fatal to a direct tax, for example, the collector who seeks tax.

The disassociation of the offices' activities from the Mail order business, we hold that such disassociation does not bar the imposition of a use tax collection duty.

Mr. Justice Blackmun has filed an opinion concurring in the result.

The Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Rehnquist took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Brennan.