Origination Clause

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The Origination Clause is a part of the United States Constitution. Found in Article I, section 7, the clause reads as follows:

All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

Justiciable

The Supreme Court, by a wide margin, established that challenges under the Origination Clause are fully justiciable. United States v. Munoz-Flores, 495 U.S. 385, 396 (1990). In so doing it overruled a prior Fifth Circuit precedent to the contrary: See Texas Assn. of Concerned Taxpayers, Inc. v. United States, 772 F. 2d 163 (5th Cir. 1985) (holding that an Origination Clause challenge to the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 presented a nonjusticiable political question).

Numerous other decisions, other than the foregoing solitary Fifth Circuit ruling, had been in accord that lawsuits based on the Origination Clause are justiciable. See, e.g., Armstrong v. United States, 759 F.2d 1378, 1381-1382 (9th Cir. 1985); Wardell v. United States, 757 F.2d 203 (8th Cir. 1985) (per curiam); Heitman v. United States, 753 F.2d 33 (6th Cir. 1984) (per curiam). Cf. Flint v. Stone Tracy Co., 220 U.S. 107, 142-143 (1911).

Supreme Court Rulings

Three Supreme Court decisions address the meaning of the term "Bills for raising Revenue" in the Origination Clause:

  • United States v. Norton, 91 U.S. (1 Otto) 566 (1875), which held that the Act to Establish a Postal Money Order System was not a revenue-raising bill for purposes of the Origination Clause. The Act provided that "all moneys received from the sale of money orders, all fees received for selling them, and all moneys transferred in administering the Act, are 'to be deemed and taken to be money in the Treasury of the United States.'" 91 U.S. at 454. The Court relied in part on the Congressional purpose declared at the outset of the first section of the Postal Act: "To promote public convenience, and to insure greater security in the transmission of money through the United States mails."
  • Twin City Bank of New Brighton v. Nebeker, 167 U.S. 196 (1897), held that an Act of Congress providing a national currency secured by a pledge of United States bonds, to meet the expenses of executing the law, and imposing a tax on the average amount of the notes in circulation of banking associations organized under the statutes, did not constitute a revenue bill under the Origination Clause. Noting that the "main purpose that Congress had in view was to provide a national currency based upon United States bonds" and that the "tax was a means for effectually accomplishing" that purpose, the Court held that there was no purpose by the Act to raise revenue to be applied in meeting the expenses or obligations of the government. Id. at 203.
  • Millard v. Roberts, 202 U.S. 429 (1906), held that a bill providing for the taxation of property in D.C. to provide funds for adequate railroad terminal facilities there was not a bill to raise revenue. The Court noted that "whatever taxes are imposed are but means to the purposes provided by the act [i.e., to provide railroad terminal facilities]." Id. at 437.

Mr. Justice Story once wrote "that the practical construction of the Constitution, and the history of the origin of the constitutional provision in question, proves that revenue bills are those that levy taxes in the strict sense of the word, and are not bills for other purposes, which may incidentally create revenue." 1 Story, Const. § 880. See Norton, 91 U.S. at 569; Twin City, 167 U.S. at 203; Millard, 202 U.S. at 436.

Fifth Circuit precedent

  • In United States v. Herrada, 887 F.2d 524 (5th Cir. 1989), the Fifth Circuit held that the challenge bill was not a revenue-raising bill, and thus not subject to the Origination Clause. A "special assessment of $100 imposed upon him pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3013 after his conviction on two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon" is not a bill to raise revenue within the meaning of the Origination Clause, the Court held. Id. at 526.
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