Collector v. Day (Buffington v. Day), 11 Wallace (78 U.S.) 113; 20 L. Ed. 122 (1871)
Facts—Judge Day of the Probate Court for Barnstable County, Massachusetts, brought a suit against Buffington, collector of internal revenue, to recover federal income tax assessments upon his salary during the years 1866 and 1867, as judge of the Court of Probate and Insolvency, Barnstable County, Mass. Judge Day, having paid the tax under protest, brought suit to recover the amount paid and obtained judgment. The collector then sued for a writ of error.
Question—Can Congress constitutionally impose a tax upon the salary of a judicial officer of a state?
Reasons—J. Nelson (8–1). The work that a judge does is a vital function of the state. It is one of the reserved rights of the state coupled with the passing of laws and the administration of them. The federal government has only the delegated power that the states gave it, and since this is a part that the states reserved for themselves, these governmental actions are not properly subject to the taxing power of Congress.
The means and instrumentalities employed for carrying on the operations of state governments should not be liable to be crippled or defeated by the taxing power of another government. One of these means and instrumentali- ties is the judicial department of the state, and in its establishment the states are independent of the general government.
Although there is no express provision in the Constitution that prohibits the general government from taxing the means and instrumentalities of the states, the exemption rests upon necessary implication and is upheld by the law of self-preservation.
J. Bradley argued in dissent that the national government should have the same power to tax salaries of state officials as it had of taxing salaries of its own.
Note—In Graves et al., Tax Commissioners v. New York ex rel. O’Keefe, 306 U.S. 466 (1939), the Supreme Court reversed this decision. It decided that nondiscriminatory state taxation of the salaries of federal officials was not the same as direct taxation of that government.