The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc., which requires it to revisit the 1992 decision that currently governs the collection of sales tax for merchandise sold online.
Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up a petition to reconsider Quill, the 1992 ruling that governs how taxes from online sales are collected today.

The justices announced their decision to take up the case of internet sales tax on Friday, the SCOTUS blog shows.

Officially filed as South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc., the case for internet sales tax “fairness,” as it is known among proponents, made its way to the highest court in the land via South Dakota.

In 2016, legislators in the Midwestern state passed a law requiring companies that make more than $100,000 in sales or have more than 200 transactions per calendar year remit sales tax, whether they have a physical presence in South Dakota or not.

Legislators argued the state is missing out on millions in revenue from online sales and that it’s time to revisit Quill, the nearly-26-year-old decision that prohibits states from imposing sales tax requirements on vendors with no physical presence there.

Online retailers NewEgg, Wayfair and Overstock.com challenged the law in the state’s Supreme Court and won, with the court stating in its decision, “However persuasive the state’s arguments on the merits of revisiting the issue, Quill has not been overruled. Quill remains the controlling precedent on the issue of Commerce Clause limitations on interstate collection of sales and use taxes.”

In October, South Dakota Attorney General Marty J. Jackley petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case, which it agreed to Friday.

The court is expected to hear oral arguments in April, with a decision expected by late June.

The lack of sales tax collection on online purchases is an important issue for brick-and-mortar retailers, particularly those who depend on high-dollar sales like jewelers.

Jewelers of America has been fighting on behalf of its members for changes to the legislation governing online sales tax collection for a decade and was one of 10 retail trade associations that filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of South Dakota’s petition.

JA President and CEO David J. Bonaparte called Friday’s decision a “major milestone” in the association’s long-standing fight to “level the playing field” between online and brick-and-mortar retailers.

“Now that the court has agreed to hear the case, we are optimistic that it will recognize that Quill does not reflect the retail landscape that exists today,” he said.

But Overstock.com, the only retailer of the three involved in the case that sells jewelry, sees it differently.

In a statement issued Friday, the online retailer said it is confident the high court will uphold Quill.

“States do not have the power to conscript individuals or organizations that do not have a physical presence within their state to do the state’s job of collecting sales tax,” said Jonathan Johnson, a member of Overstock.com’s board of directors. “It’s a straightforward notion. And disregard for the precedent would have severe consequences for businesses and individuals.”

He added that even if the Supreme Court decides to overturn Quill, Congress would still need to intercede in order to change federal law.

While that is true, Chris Fetzer of Haake Fetzer, the firm that lobbies on behalf of JA in Washington, said what can be expected if the Supreme Court rules to overturn Quill is states that have not already done so will move to pass laws to require retailers to collect and remit sales and use taxes, regardless of whether or not they have a physical presence in the state.

“Quill,” he observed, “would no longer be the law of the land.”

Congressional action wouldn’t be necessary in that case, but Congress would still have a role because only it can pass a federal framework for sales and use tax collection. Otherwise, Fetzer said, retailers would be required to adhere to a patchwork framework on a state-by-state basis of potentially disparate laws.

It is also worth noting that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a longtime opponent of online sales tax legislation, announced in November that he will not seek re-election, and so he will not be in Congress anymore come January 2019.

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