Supreme Court Rules Against Wayfair in Online Sales Tax Battle


In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of South Dakota on South Dakota vs Wayfair.  South Dakota was seeking to upend the 1992 Quill ruling which prevented states from imposing sales taxes on companies that did not maintain a physical presence within their borders.

Consequently catalog shippers and others may now be required to collect tax on shipments irrespective of where they are located physically. As the United State has a number of different local and tax regimes, this ruling could have important cost implications for catalog mailers.

The following was provided by the American Catalog Mailers Association. It provides additional insight into the fact that it is not about avoiding tax, but rather the complexity of its management:

“Small catalog and online retailers with little or no presence beyond their headquarters will be hurt the most – some will be forced out of business,” said ACMA President & Executive Director Hamilton Davison. “Rural Americans, shut ins and older consumers will be particularly hard hit by this decision.”

By ruling against remote sellers and customers all across America, the High Court’s decision means companies who sell only 100 orders a year must now collect sales taxes for every South Dakota order. “This is a ridiculously small threshold,” Davison said. “A merchant might sell only 100 $20 orders and now be forced to comply with laws well outside its capacity and be subject to horrendous complexity.”

This opens the door to more than 12,000 separate taxing jurisdictions who are now free to impose virtually any requirement on businesses nationwide. Gone too are the protections from unreasonable and countless compliance burdens on companies without a physical presence; in fact there may be no end to what politicos attempt to impose on those who do not vote for them. “The dizzying array of differing state and local tax laws presents an impossible array of complexity for both remote sellers like catalog companies and their customers,” Davison added.

Congress must now work quickly to clarify exactly what burdens are acceptable to interstate commerce before things devolve into chaos unleashed by this decision. “Given the lack of restraint historically shown by regulators and tax administrators willing to impose virtually any burden on companies outside their borders,” Davison said, “the Court’s decision is sobering and troubling.”

Adding to the absurdity of the High Court’s decision, a recent Government Accounting Office report found that forcing all remote sellers to collect sales tax adds only 2%-3% new revenue but would impose significant additional costs to collect. In essence, it will take only a small drop to employment and corporate profitability to offset any new sales tax revenues this generates.

Other information provided by ACMA stated that “Based on our analysis of nearly 1,000 Internet retail companies, we estimate that about 80 percent of the potential revenue from requiring all Internet retailers to collect is already collectible. Many of the largest Internet sellers are established retail chains or consumer brands with a physical presence, such as retail stores, in all, or nearly all, of the 45 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have a statewide sales tax. As noted earlier, under current law, if a remote seller has a substantial presence (referred to as nexus) in a state, the seller is required to collect.”