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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: August 2018

5 - Opinion Assignments


In 1947, the US Supreme Court considered a challenge to a New York tax on transportation utilities in Central Greyhound Lines v. Mealey. The State of New York had levied a two percent tax on the gross income of all utilities operating in the state, including common carriers such as Central Greyhound Lines. Because the Constitution delegates to Congress the power to tax interstate commerce, the tax applied only to buses moving within the state of New York; transportation between New York and other states was not subject to the tax. However, the State Tax Commission held that the utilities tax applied to the transportation of passengers between two points in New York even if substantial portions of the transportation utilized highways in other states. Central Greyhound Lines challenged the constitutionality of the tax as applied to a route between two points in New York because 43.53 percent of the route passed through New Jersey and Pennsylvania and therefore might be considered interstate commerce.

In the Court's conference discussion, a majority of justices supported upholding the New York tax, and the opinion of the Court was assigned to Justice Frank Murphy. Majority opinion assignments were rare for Justice Murphy. “Neither [Chief Justice Harlan Fiske] Stone nor [Chief Justice Fred M.] Vinson had much confidence in his work. Accordingly, he received few opinions in important cases from either chief justice”; in fact, the opinion in Central Greyhound had been his “sole assignment to date” during the 1947 term. The other justices viewed him as “lazy and unsophisticated in the law” (Justice Felix Frankfurter once wrote to another justice, “[T]he short of the matter is that today you would no more heed Murphy's tripe than you would be seen naked at Dupont Circle at high noon tomorrow”). Murphy “lacked the intellectual drive and the patience to structure the central juridical options of his time,” and he even doubted his own technical competence. Most importantly,Murphy was deficient in the social and leadership skills necessary to persuade his colleagues and marshal the Court: He “seldom spoke in public,”his assets were “all highly personal rather than ‘lawyerly,”’ and “he lacked the charisma, and perhaps the cunning, to build a political coalition capable of sustaining reform movements and of surviving himself.”

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  • Online ISBN: 9781108621410
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