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HELVERING V. DAVIS, 301 U. S. 619 (1937)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Helvering v. Davis, 301 U.S. 619 (1937)

Helvering v. Davis

No. 910

Argued May 5, 1937

Decided May 24, 1937

301 U.S. 619


1. The Court abstains from dismissing, sua sponte, as not properly within equity jurisdiction, a bill by a shareholder to restrain his corporation from making the tax payments and the deductions from wages required by Title VIII of the Social Security Act of August 14, 1935, the bill alleging that the exactions are void and that compliance will subject the corporation and its shareholders to irreparable damage. P. 301 U. S. 639.

The corporation acquiesced. The Collector and Commissioner of Internal Revenue intervened in the court below, defended on the merits, brought the case to this Court by certiorari, and here expressly waived a defense under R.S. § 3224 and any objection upon the ground of adequate legal remedy, and urged that the validity of the taxes be determined.

2. The scheme of "Federal Old-Age Benefits" set up by Title II of the Social Security Act does not contravene the limitations of the Tenth Amendment. P. 301 U. S. 640.

3. Congress may spend money in aid of the "general welfare." P. 301 U. S. 640.

4. In drawing the line between what is "general" welfare, and what is particular, the determination of Congress must be respected by the courts, unless it be plainly arbitrary. P. 301 U. S. 640.

5. The concept of "general welfare" is not static, but adapts itself to the crises and necessities of the times. P. 301 U. S. 641.

6. The problem of security for the aged, like the general problem of unemployment, is national, as well as local. Cf. Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, ante, p. 301 U. S. 548. P. 301 U. S. 644.

There is ground to believe that laws and resources of the separate States, unaided, cannot deal with this problem effectively. State governments are reluctant to place such heavy burdens upon their residents lest they incur economic disadvantages as compared with neighbors or competitors, and a system of old age pensions established in one State encourages immigration of needy persons from other States which have rejected such systems. P. 301 U. S. 644. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 301 U. S. 620

7. When money is spent to promote the general welfare, the concept of welfare or the opposite is shaped by Congress, not the States. P. 301 U. S. 645.

8. Title II of the Social Security Act provides for "Federal Old-Age Benefits" for persons who have attained the age of 65. It creates an "Old-Age Reserve Account" in the Treasury and authorizes future appropriations to provide for the required old-age payments, but, in itself, neither appropriates money nor brings any money into the Treasury. Title VIII imposes an "excise" tax on employers, to be paid "with respect to having individuals in their employ," measured on the wages, and an "income tax on employees," measured on their wages, to be collected by their employers by deduction from wages. These taxes are not applicable to certain kinds of employment, including agricultural labor, domestic service, service for the national or state governments, and service performed by persons who have attained the age of 65 years.


(1) Title II being valid, there is no occasion to inquire whether Title VIII must fall if Title II were void. P. 301 U. S. 645.

(2) The tax upon employers is a valid excise or duty upon the relation of employment. Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, ante, p. 301 U. S. 548. P. 301 U. S. 645.

(3) The tax is not invalid as a result of its exemptions. Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, ante, p. 301 U. S. 548. P. 301 U. S. 646.

89 F.2d 393, reversed.

CERTIORARI, post, p. 674, to review the reversal of a decree of the District Court denying an injunction and dismissing the bill in a suit by Davis, a shareholder of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Boston, to enjoin the corporation from complying with tax requirements of Title VIII of the Social Security Act. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 301 U. S. 634

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