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Retailers Tell Supreme Court It’s Time To Change Sales Tax Laws

Recently the Retail Industry Leaders Association public policy organization, the Retail Litigation Center, along with more than 20 retail and wholesale trade associations, filed a document in support of overturning a rule which the Supreme Court adopted in the pre-Internet era. The 1992 court decision of Quill Corp. vs. North Dakota still prevents states from forcing online retailers, with no physical presence in their state, to collect sales tax. This provides online retailers a competitive pricing advantage over traditional brick-and-mortar stores along Main Street who are forced to charge sales tax.

The new brief highlights the upcoming Supreme Court case South Dakota v. Wayfair, Overstock, and Newegg, which seeks to repeal the current sales tax law. It points out that the 1992 Supreme Court decision is outdated, since it originally pertained predominantly to catalog companies—a segment that had sales of roughly $180 billion at the time. Today, online sales are almost $6 trillion.

“Today’s online giants do not need or deserve the special tax treatment that the court gave mail order catalog companies a half century ago,” said Deborah White, general counsel for the Retail Industry Leaders Association and president of the Retail Litigation Center. “These online companies have taken advantage of a bygone decision in order to evade the tax collection duties that their brick-and-mortar competitors perform every day.”

White explains just how prevalent online retailers are today and argues that in today’s world, they have a virtual presence across the entire marketplace as consumer use of smartphones, laptops, tablets, and computers continues to skyrocket.

“Online retailers are omnipresent today…in a way that was inconceivable in 1967 or 1992. The “physical presence” rule of those eras was enunciated by the court long before virtual presence was even imaginable,” added White. “Overturning Quill and restoring basic free market competition will not alter or impede the shopping experience. Modern retail is ubiquitous and ultrapersonal. Tomorrow’s consumer will be the ultimate winner when every retailer competes on price, service, selection, and value without government’s thumb on the scale.”

Some online retailers, including leading player Amazon, already charge state sales tax—but, others, including Wayfair, Overstock, and Newegg only collect sales taxes from customers in certain states.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on April 17, and a ruling is expected by late June.

To read the full amicus brief, click here.

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