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Arkansas Writers' Project, Inc. v. Ragland

Supreme Court of the United States

January 20, 1987, Argued ; April 22, 1987, Decided

No. 85-1370


 [*223]  [***216]  [**1724]    JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

 The question presented in this case is whether a state sales tax scheme that taxes general interest magazines, but exempts newspapers and religious, professional, trade, and sports journals, violates the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press.

 [*224]  [**1725]   I

Since 1935, Arkansas has imposed a tax on receipts from sales of tangible personal property. 1935 Ark. Gen. Acts 233, § 4, pp. 593, 594, now codified at Ark. Stat. Ann. § 84-1903(a) (1980 and Supp. 1985). The rate of tax is currently four percent of gross receipts. § 84-1903 (three percent); Ark. Stat. Ann. § 84-1903.1 (Supp. 1985) (additional one percent). ] Numerous items are exempt from the state sales tax, however. These include "gross receipts [****7]  or gross proceeds derived from the sale of newspapers," § 84-1904(f) (newspaper exemption), 2 and "religious, professional, trade and sports journals and/or publications printed and published within this State . . . when sold through regular subscriptions." § 84-1904(j) (magazine exemption). 3

 [****8]  Appellant Arkansas Writers' Project, Inc., publishes Arkansas Times, a general interest monthly magazine with a circulation of approximately 28,000. The magazine includes articles on a variety of subjects, including religion and sports. It is printed and published in Arkansas, and is sold through mail subscriptions, coin-operated stands, and over-the-counter sales. In 1980, following an audit, appellee Commissioner of Revenue assessed tax on sales of Arkansas  [*225]  Times. Appellant initially contested the assessment, but eventually reached a settlement with the State and agreed to pay the tax beginning in October 1982. However, appellant reserved the right to renew its challenge if there were a change in the tax law or a court ruling drawing into question the validity of Arkansas' exemption structure. Record 46-47.

Subsequently, in Minneapolis Star & Tribune Co. v. Minnesota Comm'r of Revenue, 460 U.S. 575  [***217]  (1983), this Court held unconstitutional a Minnesota tax on paper and ink used in the production of newspapers. In January 1984, relying on this authority, appellant sought a refund of sales tax paid since October 1982, asserting that [****9]  the magazine exemption must be construed to include Arkansas Times. It maintained that subjecting Arkansas Times to the sales tax, while sales of newspapers and other magazines were exempt, violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  The Commissioner denied appellant's claim for refund. App. to Juris. Statement 12-14.

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481 U.S. 221 *; 107 S. Ct. 1722 **; 95 L. Ed. 2d 209 ***; 1987 U.S. LEXIS 1815 ****; 55 U.S.L.W. 4522; 13 Media L. Rep. 2313



Disposition:  287 Ark. 155, 697 S. W. 2d 94 and 698 S. W. 2d 802, reversed and remanded.


magazines, exemption, sales tax, press, newspapers, sports, religious, taxation, strict scrutiny, regulation, subsidy, general interest, tax exemption, content-based, subsidization, differential, publishers, journals, invalid, sales, discriminatory, receipts, message, courts

Tax Law, State & Local Taxes, Sales Taxes, Exempt Sales, Personal Property Taxes, Tangible Personal Property, General Overview, Constitutional Law, Freedom of Speech, Free Press, Bill of Rights, Fundamental Freedoms, Equal Protection, Judicial Review, Standards of Review, Judicial & Legislative Restraints, Imposition of Tax, Civil Procedure, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction Over Actions, Concurrent Jurisdiction, Federal Tax Administration & Procedures, Tax Injunction Act, Jurisdiction, Jurisdictional Sources, Preliminary Considerations, Federal & State Interrelationships, Anti-Injunction Act, Tax Anti-Injunction Act