Roberts Tells Court History On Tax Powers, Commerce

Last Lecture Tonight

Owen J. Roberts, former Supreme Court Justice and now Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, outlined the trends of Supreme Court decisions on conflicting state and Federal rights to tax and to regulate commerce in the first two lectures of the Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. '61 lecture series for 1951 last night and the night before.

At 8 p.m. tonight in Langdell Court Room, Roberts will give the third and last talk in the series, on "The 14th Amendment."

In his Tuesday night talk on "Sovereignty and the Power to Tax," Roberts described the gradual process by which the Court has moved away from the doctrine expounded by Chief Justice Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland, that neither a state nor the federal government could tax the instrumentalities of the other.

Unpredictable Trend

The trend has gone so far, he said, that the Court has upheld federal taxes on such state activities as selling mineral water and tickets to state university football and athletic games, though it has not set out a clear rule on which future decisions could be predicted.

Roberts felt that the trend toward increased taxation of one sovereign by another was inevitable in view of the broadening scope of federal government activity.

In last night's lecture, on "Conflicts of Police Power," Roberts traced the development of Congressional control of local enterprise in pursuance of its power to "regulate interstate commerce."

NLRA the Turning Point

The turning point in this field came with a decision upholding the National Labor Relations Act in 1937, he said. Since then, the Court has upheld Congress' right to regulate industries very loosely connected with interstate commerce, and has generally accepted the Congressional judgment as to whether a certain local enterprise did directly affect interstate commerce.

Once the Court had conceded Congress the power to intervene in the affairs of local enterprises, Roberts asserted, it would not deny Congress jurisdiction in a case unless the connection to interstate commerce was shown to be extremely tenuous.