Supreme Court Rules States Have Authority To Require Online Retailers To Collect Sales Taxes
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, has held that states can assert nexus for sales and use tax purposes without requiring a seller’s physical presence in the state, thereby granting states greater power to require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax on sales to in-state residents. The decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., et al overturns prior Supreme Court precedent in the 1992 decision Quill Corp. v. North Dakota which had required retailers to have a physical presence in a state beyond merely shipping goods into a state after an order from an in-state resident before a state could require the seller to collect sales taxes from in-state customers. That was before the surge of online sales, and states have been trying since then to find constitutional ways to collect tax revenue from remote sellers into their state.
The Court noted: “When the day-to-day functions of marketing and distribution in the modern economy are considered, it is all the more evident that the physical presence rule is artificial in its entirety”. The Court also rejected arguments that the physical presence test aids interstate commerce by preventing states from imposing burdensome taxes or tax collection obligations on small or startup businesses. The Court concluded that South Dakota’s tax collection plan was designed to avoid burdening small businesses and that there would be other means of protecting these businesses than upholding Quill.
In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that, although he agreed that the enormous growth in internet commerce in the interim years has changed the economy greatly, Congress was the correct branch of government to establish tax rules for this new economy. He also took issue with the majority’s conclusion that the burden on small businesses would be minimal.
Prior to the decision, many states had already begun planning for the possible overturn of Quill.
Congress may now decide to move ahead with legislation on this issue to provide a national standard for online sales and use tax collection, such as the Remote Transactions Parity Act or Marketplace Fairness Act, or a proposal by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that would make the sales tax a business obligation rather than a consumer obligation. Under that proposal, sales tax would be collected based on the tax rate where the company is located but would be remitted to the jurisdiction where the customer is located.