The Most Irresponsible Lawsuit of the Trump Era

Just when I thought I lived in a state (New Jersey) and region (NY/NJ/CT Tri-State area) with some halfway decent leadership that had at least some idea of how our governmental system is supposed to work, I find out, on Twitter no less, that I am spectacularly wrong. With only 2 tweets early on a Friday morning, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo completely made a fool of himself, as well as of the state leadership of New Jersey and Connecticut. What could those tweets have said that so diminished Cuomo’s standing, you ask? I’ve included them below so you can see for yourself.

What is so wrong with those tweets? The Governor is simply stating that he has organized the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to sue the federal government over the recently passed tax law, specifically saying that the law is unconstitutional as it caps the longstanding deduction for state and local taxes.

There is a major problem here, however. There is absolutely nothing in the US Constitution that prohibits the federal government from stopping individuals or businesses from deducting their state and local taxes from their income for the purpose of assessing income taxes. The 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which grants the federal government the power to levy income taxes, reads in its entirety:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

That’s the whole amendment. There is nothing in that amendment, or in the significant case law associated therewith, that binds the Congress in terms of specific calculations of income for the sake of assessing taxes. The deduction of state and local taxes has absolutely been a long-held mainstay of the federal income tax calculation, but this is simply a quirk of the history of our nation’s taxation, and has nothing to do with the principles of our Constitution or tax system in general. The amendment clearly states that the federal government, via the Congress, has the ultimate power to impose taxation on incomes without regard to any specific rules or guidelines. The only rules that are imposed on this taxation are rules that Congress itself imposes; the state and local deduction was one of those rules which Congress has now determined should be altered. It is entirely within the federal government’s right to alter these tax calculation rules, and the principle of federalism does not win out here, as the Constitution’s supremacy clause, as well as the clear wording of the 16th Amendment, rules the day.

Personally, I am not a big fan of the tax plan that Congress passed late last year, and I find the deduction for state and local taxes worth protecting. Still, those personal political opinions do not prevent me from recognizing the concrete reality that the federal government has nearly unlimited power when it comes to the taxation of income. The fact that the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut do not like the new tax law and find it in their political best interest to fervently oppose it does not trump the law of the land. Andrew Cuomo may wish to bolster his national profile in advance of the 2020 Presidential election, but this half-baked attempt at a big deal, Supreme Court-argued anti-Trump lawsuit is likely going to blow up in his face.

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