MR. JUSTICE McKENNA delivered the opinion of the court.
The case presents the question of the constitutionality, under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, of section 2 of the inheritance tax law of the State of Illinois. Rev. Stat. Illinois, 1895, c. 120, par. 308. The constitutionality of the law was passed upon in Magoun v. Illinois Trust & Savings Bank, 170 U.S. 283, and is there set out. As much of section 2 as is necessary to quote is as follows:
It is claimed, however, that the question presented in this case was not passed upon in Magoun v. Illinois Trust & Savings Bank. If this be not so, if this case cannot be distinguished from that, it follows necessarily that the judgment sought to be reviewed must be affirmed.
The proceedings originated in the County Court of Cook County, Illinois, which entered a judgment order assessing taxes, under the law in controversy, upon the property and estates passing to the plaintiffs in error. The order was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the State. 189 Illinois, 472.
Albert M. Billings, a resident of Chicago, died in that city, February 7, 1897. He left surviving him a widow, Augusta S. Billings; a son, Cornelius K.G. Billings, one of the plaintiffs in error, and grandson, Albert M. Billings Ruddock, who is the other plaintiff in error. He also left a son by a former marriage, with whom this record is not concerned. His estate was very large, and he devised and bequeathed it all to his wife, excepting certain reservations, during her natural life. How it should be divided, then, the will proceeded to provide as follows:
"I do also herein give and bequeath to my son Cornelius
The will, therefore, created a life estate in the widow in the entire estate, and at her death life estates of two thirds and one third of the property bequeathed respectively to the testator's son and grandson, the plaintiffs in error.
The widow renounced the provision made for her, and elected to take in lieu thereof her dower and legal share, and the estates to the plaintiffs in error accrued at once. The County Court appointed an appraiser to fix the fair market value of the estates for the purpose of assessing the inheritance tax as provided by the statute. "The widow's dower award," to quote from the opinion of the Supreme Court, "and one third of the personalty were appraised at the total sum of $2,363,151.75, the tax upon which, after deducting the $20,000 exemption, was fixed at $23,443.53. The life interest (as it was decreed to be) of said Cornelius in the two thirds bequeathed to him was appraised at $2,472,118.75, and after deducting his exemption of $20,000, the tax to be paid by him was assessed at
The widow was an appellant in the Supreme Court of the State, but she is not a party here.
The assignment of error is "that the statute is in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, in that the classification of life tenants is arbitrary and unreasonable, and denies to the plaintiffs in error, as life tenants, the equal protection of the laws; because the statute, as interpreted and enforced by the state courts, taxes life estates where the remainder is to lineals, but does not tax, and expressly exempts, similar life estates where the remainder is to collaterals or to strangers in blood."
Turning to the Magoun case, we find that the objection made to the statute was that it denied to the appellant the equal protection of the laws, and the somewhat elementary and lengthy discussion in the opinion was induced by the grounds upon which, and the ability with which, the statute was attacked. It is very certain that no consideration was omitted from the arguments at bar which could have aided the court to form a judgment. If there had been a proper classification there could not have been the denial of the equal protection of the laws, and we, therefore, expressed and illustrated the principle upon which it should be based. We said it was established by cases that classification must be based on some reasonable ground.
These principles were announced in the Magoun case and found to sustain the Illinois statute. We said: "There are three main classes in the Illinois statute, the first and second being based, respectively, on lineal and collateral relationship to the testator or intestate, and the third being composed of strangers to his blood and distant relatives. The latter is again divided into four subclasses dependent upon the amount of the estate received. The first two classes, therefore, depend on substantial differences, differences which may distinguish them from each other and them or either of them from the other class — differences, therefore, which `bear a just and proper relation to the attempted classification' — the rule expressed in the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. Ellis, 165 U.S. 150. And if the constituents of each class are affected alike, the rule of equality prescribed by the cases is satisfied. In other words, the law operates `equally and uniformly upon all persons in similar circumstances.'"
But it is insisted that the classification sustained in the Magoun case "related solely to the graduated feature of the tax." In the case at bar, it is said, the question is "whether or not the Illinois legislature can discriminate against constituents of a certain class, and apply different rules for the taxation of its members. Life tenants constitute but a single class, and the incidents of such an estate, the source thereof, the extent, the dominion over and quality of interest in the tenant, is the same irrespective of the ultimate vesting of the remainder. The tax
Undoubtedly, life tenants regarded simply as persons, may be in legal contemplation the same; estates for life regarded simply as estates with their attributes also in legal contemplation, may be said to be the same, but that is not all that is to be considered, nor is it determinative. We must regard the power of the State over testate and intestate dispositions of property, its power to create and limit estates, and, as resulting, its power to impose conditions upon their transfer or devolution. It is upon this power that inheritance tax laws are based, and we said, in the Magoun case, that the power could be exercised by distinguishing between the lineal and collateral relatives of a testator. There the amount of tax depended upon him who immediately received; here the existence of the tax depends upon him who ultimately receives. That can make no difference with the power of the State. No discrimination being exercised in the creation of the class, equality is observed. Crossing the lines of the classes created by the statute discriminations may be exhibited, but within the classes there is equality.