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AMBROSINI v. UNITED STATES

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


October 20, 1902

AMBROSINI
v.
UNITED STATES

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS

Harlan, Brewer, Brown, Shiras, Jr., White, Peckham, McKenna; Fuller did not hear the argument and took no part in the decision.

Author: Fuller

[ 187 U.S. Page 6]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

By the dramshop act the general assembly of Illinois legislated, as was stated in the title of the act, "against the evils arising from the sale of intoxicating liquors," not by prohibiting the traffic altogether, but by regulating it in protection of the public. The act concerning cities authorized municipal action subject to the general law.

The legislation was enacted in the exercise of the police power for the safety, welfare and health of the community, and it is conceded that that power is a power reserved by the States, free from Federal restriction in any particular material here.

The act and the ordinance required these bonds to be given as prerequisites to the issue of licenses permitting the sale. The licenses could not be issued without compliance with this condition precedent. The statute expressly provided that no license should be granted unless the applicant "shall first give bond in the penal sum of $3000," and the ordinance, that "no application for a license shall be considered until such bond shall have been filed."

The bonds were obviously intended to secure the proper enforcement of the laws in respect of the sale of intoxicating liquors;

[ 187 U.S. Page 7]

     the prompt payment of fines and penalties; a remedy for injuries in person, property or means of support; and the protection of the public in divers other enumerated particulars. The granting of the licenses was the exercise of a strictly governmental function, and the giving of the bonds was part of the same transaction. To tax the license would be to impair the efficiency of state and municipal action on the subject and assume the power to suppress such action. And considering license and bond together, taxation of the bond involves the same consequences. In themselves the bonds were not mere incidents of the regulation of the traffic, but essential safeguards against its evils, and governmental instrumentalities of State and of city, as authorized by the State, to insure the public welfare in the conduct of the business, although the business itself was not governmental. They were not mere individual undertakings to secure a personal privilege as suggested by the court below, but means for the preservation of the peace, the health and the safety of the community in compelling strict observance of the law, and remedying injurious results.

The general principle is that as the means and instrumentalities employed by the General Government to carry into operation the powers granted to it are exempt from taxation by the States, so are those of the States exempt from taxation by the General Government. It rests on the law of self-preservation, for any government, whose means employed in conducting its strictly governmental operations are subject to the control of another and distinct government, exists only at the mercy of the latter. Nelson, J., Collector v. Day, 11 Wall. 113.

Viewed in the light of that general principle, we think it clear that Congress, lest the broad language of Schedule A, "and all other bonds of any description," might literally cover bonds such as those in question, and in avoidance of controversy in that regard, exempted them by section 17, wherein it was declared that it was intended "to exempt from stamp taxes imposed by this act, such State, county, town, or other municipal corporations in the exercise only of functions strictly belonging to them in their ordinary governmental, taxing or municipal capacity." True, this language was used in a proviso, and the

[ 187 U.S. Page 8]

     enacting clause exempted bonds "issued by the officers of any State, county, town, municipal corporation or other corporation exercising the taxing power;" but as the bonds were required by the State and the city and were issued for the benefit of the public and not for the benefit of the individuals who executed them, it appears to us that they came fairly within the meaning of the clause, assuming that they were covered by Schedule A. The question is whether the bonds were taken in the exercise of a function strictly belonging to the State and city in their ordinary governmental capacity, and we are of opinion that they were, and that they were exempted as no more taxable than the licenses. Either they were exempt, apart from the proviso, because, in the sense of the statute, issued by the State and city, or the proviso so far qualified the language of the enacting clause as to exempt them in exempting the State and city in respect of the exercise of strictly governmental functions.

We conclude, therefore, that they were not taxable within the statute. United States v. Owens, 100 Fed. Rep. 70; Stirneman v. Smith, 100 Fed. Rep. 600; Warwick v. Bettman, 102 Fed. Rep. 127; S.C., 108 Fed. Rep. 46; People v. City, 31 C. L. N. 247.

Judgment reversed and cause remanded with a direction to quash the indictment.

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN did not hear the argument and took no part in the decision.

19021020

© 1998 VersusLaw Inc.



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