Williams v. Vermont

LOCATION: San Francisco Scrap Metals, Inc.

DOCKET NO.: 84-592
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Vermont Supreme Court

CITATION: 472 US 14 (1985)
ARGUED: Mar 19, 1985
DECIDED: Jun 04, 1985

Andrew M. Eschen - on behalf of the appellees
Norman Charles Williams - on behalf of appellants
Williams - for their right to use Vermont's roads by failing to register their cars within the time period set by Vermont law

Facts of the case


Media for Williams v. Vermont

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 19, 1985 in Williams v. Vermont

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Norman Williams and Susan Levine v. Vermont.

Mr. Williams, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Norman Charles Williams:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court, this appeal challenges discrimination between residents and non-residents under the Vermont Motor Vehicle Purchase and Use Tax.

We believe that discrimination violates the equal protection clause and the privileges and immunities clause of the United States Constitution.

We also believe that the statute violates the commerce clause.

Everyone who moves to Vermont and owns a car has to pay a 4 percent tax on the value of their car when they register it in Vermont.

Residents in exactly the same circumstances pay no tax.

Let me tell you how the tax system works.

Nominally, everyone, every individual who first registers a car in Vermont is required to pay a 4 percent tax.

However, residents of Vermont who buy cars in other states are granted a credit for taxes paid to the other state.

Nonresidents in exactly the same circumstances are denied that credit.

In effect, this means that a Vermont resident who goes to Illinois and buys a car, pays an Illinois tax of 7 percent, comes back to Vermont and registers the car there, pays no tax to the State of Vermont.

An Illinois resident in exactly the same situation goes to exactly the same dealership on exactly the same day, pays the tax, buys the car, pays the tax of 7 percent, moves to Vermont.

When that person registers his car in Vermont, he pays a 4 percent tax to the State of Vermont.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Williams, I was going to inquire whether it isn't the case that Illinois and New York laws exempt Vermont residents from payment of the sales tax if they leave Vermont and buy the vehicle in Illinois or New York?

Norman Charles Williams:

No, they don't.

If a Vermont resident bought a car in Illinois and stayed for only two or three weeks or bought a car in New York and stayed for only two or three weeks, in that case they would have an option.

They would not have to pay Illinois or New York.

But let's take the case of, for example, an executive who is transferred to Illinois for three months; buys a car in Illinois for his stay there.

He has got to pay the Illinois tax in order to drive that car in Illinois for three months.

Other situations might be retirees who went to Florida and stayed over the winter.

They would have to pay a tax to Florida.

When they got back to Vermont, they would get a credit for the tax paid.

So I don't think it's true of... if you stay for only two or three weeks, you have a choice.

Other than that, you have to pay to the other state.

William H. Rehnquist:

You say the proper basis for comparison here is not the Vermont resident who stays for two or three weeks in New York or Illinois, but the one who stays for the longer... three, three month or longer period?

Norman Charles Williams:

Well, the person who stays longer than two or three weeks, just like the Appellants stayed longer than two or three weeks after they bought their cars in Illinois and New York.

John Paul Stevens:

But are there any... does the record show there are any such Vermont residents?

Norman Charles Williams:

There's no record in this case because it comes up on a motion to dismiss.