BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS v. UNITED STATES
The University of Illinois imported scientific equipment for educational user and, under protest, was required to pay tariffs on the equipment under the Tariff Act of 1922. Arguing that the tariff was a tax that the university, as an institution serving an instrumentality of a state, should be exempt from paying, the university challenged the tariff before the United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals. The court rejected the claim, asserting that the act was an exercise of Congress' authority to regulate commerce under Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, rather than a tax.
Should the University of Illinois be required to pay tariffs required by the Tariff Act of 1922 on equipment it imports for educational purposes?
Yes. In a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the Court read the act as an exercise of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause. The Chief Justice noted that, while the laying of duties is a tax, and the power to tax and the power to regulate commerce are distinct, "it does not follow that duties may not be imposed in the exercise of the power to regulate commerce." If Congress asserts that it is exercising its power under the Commerce Clause, the Court concluded, "the judicial department may not attempt in its own conception of policy to distribute the duties thus fixed by allocating some of them to the…power to regulate commerce and others to…the taxing power." Therefore, because "no State by virtue of any interest of its own would be entitled to override" Congress' power under the Commerce Clause, the tariff may be levied.