Friday, June 21, 2024

SCOTUS Finds IRC §965 Transition Tax Constitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 2017 federal tax overhaul's mandatory repatriation tax on June 20, 2024, finding the measure applies to the earnings of foreign corporations with U.S. shareholders and therefore does not raise constitutional questions about taxing unrealized income. 

In a 7-2 ruling, the justices found that the repatriation provision operates in a way that does not require the high court to weigh whether the Constitution's Sixteenth Amendment prohibits Congress from taxing unrealized income. Specifically, the majority ruled that the measure, known as the mandatory repatriation tax under IRC §965, taxes income that was realized by foreign corporations with U.S. shareholders, and Congress has the authority to attribute a company's realized and undistributed income to shareholders for taxation.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote the majority's opinion, said the court 

"Need Not Resolve That Disagreement Over Realization"
To Decide This Case, Adding That Those Are
Potential Issues For Another Day."

Justice Kavanaugh, pointed out that the MRT taxes a shareholder on income that is clearly realized by a controlled foreign corporation, so the real question is “whether Congress may attribute an entity’s realized and undistributed income to the entity’s shareholders or partners, and then tax the shareholders or partners on their portions of that income.”

The majority found support for this proposition and dismissed petitioners’ attempts to distinguish 
 IRC §965 from the many taxes based on the undistributed income of partnerships, S-corporations, controlled foreign corporations, and the like.

In contrast with the majority’s narrow approach, four justices: Justice Barrett, in a concurrence joined by Justice Alito, and Justice Thomas, in a dissent joined by Justice Gorsuch all endorsed the existence of a constitutional realization requirement. 

These justices effectively invite future challenges to Congress’s authority to tax various types of income or gains under the Sixteenth Amendment.

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