internet sales tax

In South Dakota v. Wayfair South Dakota is asking the Supreme Court to rule that states and local governments may require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax. Doing so will require the Court to overrule Quill v. North Dakota (1992), where it held that states and local governments cannot require a business to collect sales tax unless the business has a physical presence in the state.

Based on oral argument the Court is likely to follow one of three paths. It could keep the physical presence test and not overturn Quill. It could overturn Quill and replace (or add to) the physical presence test an economic nexus test (like the South Dakota law which requires out-of-state vendors to collect tax only if they annually conduct $100,000 worth of business or 200 separate transactions annually in the state). Finally, it could overturn Quill and allow states to require all out-of-state vendors to collect sales tax no matter how much (or little) business they do in a state.

In South Dakota v. Wayfair South Dakota is asking the Supreme Court to overrule precedent and hold that states and local governments may require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that states lost $23.3 billion in 2012 from being prohibited from collecting sales tax from online and catalog purchases. 

In 1967 in National Bellas Hess  v. Department of Revenue of Illinois, the Supreme Court held that per its Commerce Clause jurisprudence, states and local governments cannot require businesses to collect sales tax unless the business has a physical presence in the state.

Twenty-five years later in Quill v. North Dakota (1992), the Supreme Court reaffirmed the physical presence requirement but admitted that “contemporary Commerce Clause jurisprudence might not dictate the same result” as the Court had reached in Bellas Hess.

CSG Midwest
At least 20 states, including five in the Midwest (see map), have enacted taxes on the “streaming” of media, such as music, movies or TV shows.

The Supreme Court refused to hear a case involving the question of whether a Colorado law requiring remote sellers to inform Colorado purchasers annually of their purchases and send the same information to the Colorado Department of Revenue is unconstitutional. As is always the case, the Supreme Court gave no reason for denying the petition.   

In Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, decided in 1992, the Supreme Court held that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax. In 2010 the Colorado legislature passed the law described above to improve sales tax collection. The Direct Marketing Association sued Colorado claiming the law unconstitutionally discriminates against interstate commerce and is unconstitutional under Quill.