A Brief History of Judicial Quotes on Taxes

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As Congress tries to undertake a major overhaul of the tax code, it’s generally recognized that proposals to cut taxes and simplify filing rules predictably generate hoopla on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

Those proposals also evoke enthusiasm in many other quarters within the Beltway.

But Washington insiders ignore or forget that our tax system usually is viewed a tad less rapturously, particularly by Supreme Court justices.

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, it’s a time to reflect, and here are some of my favorite quotes:

James C. McReynolds dryly pointed out: "Logic and taxation are not always the best of friends."

Robert H. Jackson observed: "No other branch of the law touches human activities at so many points. (Tax law) can never be made simple, but we can try to avoid making it needlessly complex."

He cautioned that "the United States has a system of taxation by confession. That a people so numerous, scattered and individualistic annually assesses itself with a tax liability is a reassuring sign of the stability and vitality of our system of self government. It will be a sad day for the revenues if the good will of the people toward their taxing system is frittered away in efforts to accomplish by taxation moral reforms that cannot be accomplished by direct legislation."

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About Julian Block

Julian Block

Attorney and author Julian Block is frequently quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. He has been cited as “a leading tax professional” (New York Times), an “accomplished writer on taxes” (Wall Street Journal), and “an authority on tax planning” (Financial Planning magazine). More information about his books can be found at julianblocktaxexpert.com


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Nov 28th 2017 01:34

You left out my favorite, by Judge Learned Hand:

Over and over again courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging one's affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich or poor; and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands: taxes are enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions. To demand more in the name of morals is mere cant.

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