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The U.S. Supreme Court released on June 15, 2009 a rare decision under the Tonnage Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which makes it unconstitutional for any state or local government to “lay any Duty of Tonnage” unless specifically authorized by federal legislation (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 10, Clause 3).  The Court’s opinion traces the history of this clause in preventing ports and harbors from burdening interstate and foreign commerce, or indirectly taxing the consumption of their inland neighbors by in effect taxing cargo ships according to their size.  In this case, the Court found that a tax imposed by Valdez, Alaska, while neutrally drafted, in effect operated to tax only very large oil tankers entering its harbor.  The Court is quick to emphasize, however, that while the Tonnage Clause forbids discriminatory taxes on ships in port, it does not operate so broadly as to exempt ships from taxes of general application, or negate taxes related to the use of or burdens upon public property.  (Polar Tankers, Inc. v. City of Valdez, U.S. Supreme Court No. 08-310, June 15, 2009)

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