Supreme Court considers railroad tax, gender discrimination cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Wednesday in CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Alabama Department of Revenue [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on whether a state's exemption of railroad competitors, but not railroads, from a generally applicable sales and use tax is subject to challenge as "another tax that discriminates against a rail carrier" under section 306(1)(d) of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976, 49 USC § 11501(b)(4) [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the sales and use tax on diesel fuel does not unlawfully discriminate against railroad companies. Counsel for CSX argued that Congress intended to protect the railroads from this type of discrimination. Counsel for the US government argued as amicus curiae on behalf of CSX. Counsel for the respondents argued that property tax exemptions and sales and use tax exemptions should be treated the same way.

In Flores-Villar v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether its decision in Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service [opinion text] permits gender discrimination that has no biological basis. Ruben Flores-Villar raised a Fifth Amendment equal protection challenge to two former sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC § 1401(a)(7) and 8 USC § 1409 [texts], which impose a five-year residence requirement, after the age of 14, on US citizen fathers, but not on US citizen mothers, before they may transmit citizenship to a child born out of wedlock abroad to a non-citizen. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the provisions survive intermediate scrutiny. Counsel for Flores-Villar argued:

In Nguyen, the Court approved the imposition of legitimation requirement only upon fathers of non-marital children born abroad. That was based on biological differences between men and women. It provided proof of parentage and proof of an opportunity to make a relationship with the child that adhered in birth as to the mother.

But here, the residential requirements that are at issue here have no biological basis. They set up barriers to the transmission of citizenship by younger fathers, but not younger mothers, and they are based upon gender stereotypes that women, not men, would care -- would care for non-marital children.

Counsel for the US argued:
Congress in deciding who among the various people born abroad should be made citizens of the United States has to take into account myriad factors that may bear on that question and its judgment. They include importantly Congress's prediction in the case of conferring citizenship at birth, what would be that person's likely connection to the United States. Congress also has to consider the interaction with the laws of other countries where these people may be born. It may take into account equities, potential statelessness or dual nationality. These are complicated questions to which the courts should defer.
Flores-Villar argues the court should apply intermediate scrutiny, while the government argues for rational basis review.

 

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