Supreme Court takes away some of states' taxing power

Federal jurisdiction over state law was the big winner in the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday in three cases involving a manufacturing tax, highway funds tied to the drinking age, and extradition. The justices ruled, 6 to 2, that a Washington State levy on some products made in state but sold to out-of-state customers discriminates unconstitutionally against interstate commerce.

Writing for the majority, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens said this tax ``exposes manufacturing and selling outside the state to a multiple burden'' from which in-state selling is exempt.

In a dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia warned that the decision will have a major impact on the power of states to levy taxes on business.

Justice Scalia added that such limits on states' discretion to structure their own tax systems has no constitutional basis or judicial precedent.

South Dakota's challenge to a law that allows the federal government to withhold highway funds from states that refuse to adopt a minimum drinking age of 21 failed by a 7-to-2 vote of the high court. Eight other states had supported South Dakota's position that such restriction violates the Constitution's 21st Amendment which, in repealing prohibition, gave states broad power over liquor distribution.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist said, in the majority opinion, that the 1984 congressional legislation was aimed at advancing the general welfare.

Chief Justice Rehnquist reasoned that, even if constitutional amendment bars federal lawmakers from directly imposing a minimum drinking age, it is still lawful to tie highway funds to state passage of such laws.

Only four states - Colorado, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wyoming - now allow those under 21 to purchase alcoholic beverages. A South Dakota so-called ``drink at 21'' law, scheduled to go into effect next April, would have been automatically invalidated if Tuesday's ruling had gone the other way.

The federal law linking the dispersing of highway funds to drinking age was designed to prod states to take a strong stand against teen-age use of alcohol. In an Iowa case, the court unanimously ruled that federal courts may force states to extradite fugitives to other states.

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