MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.
This is a suit brought by the executors of one Purdy to recover an estate tax levied under the Act of Congress of September 8, 1916, c. 463, Title II, § 201, 39 Stat. 756, 777, and paid under duress on December 14, 1917. According to the complaint Purdy died leaving a will and codicil directing that all succession, inheritance and transfer taxes should be paid out of the residuary estate, which was bequeathed to the descendants of his brother. The value of the residuary estate was $427,414.96, subject to some administration expenses. The executors had been required to pay and had paid inheritance and succession taxes to New York ($32,988.97) and other States ($4,780.91) amounting in all to $37,769.88. The gross estate as defined in § 202 of the act of Congress was $769,799.39; funeral expenses and expenses of administration, except the above taxes, $61,322.08; leaving a net value for the payment of legacies, except as reduced by the taxes of the United States, of $670,707.43. The plaintiffs were compelled to pay $23,910.77 to the United States, no deduction of any part of the above mentioned $37,769.88 being allowed. They allege that the act of Congress is unconstitutional, and also that it was misconstrued in not allowing a deduction of state inheritance and succession taxes as charges within the meaning of § 203. On demurrer the District Court dismissed the suit.
By § 201 of the act, "a tax . . . equal to the following percentage, of the value of the net estate, to be
The statement of the constitutional objections urged imports on its face a distinction that, if correct, evidently hitherto has escaped this Court. See United States v. Field, 255 U.S. 257. It is admitted, as since Knowlton v. Moore, 178 U.S. 41, it has to be, that the United States has power to tax legacies, but it is said that this tax is cast upon a transfer while it is being effectuated by the State itself and therefore is an intrusion upon its processes, whereas a legacy tax is not imposed until the process is complete. An analogy is sought in the difference between the attempt of a State to tax commerce among the States and its right after the goods have become mingled with the general stock in the State. A consideration of the parallel is enough to detect the fallacy. A tax that was directed solely against goods imported into the State and that was determined by the fact of importation would be no better after the goods were at rest in the State than before. It would be as much an interference with commerce in one case as in the other. Darnell & Son Co. v. Memphis, 208 U.S. 113. Welton v. Missouri, 91 U.S. 275. Conversely if a tax on the property distributed by the laws of a State, determined by the fact that distribution has been accomplished, is valid, a tax determined by the fact that distribution is about to begin is no greater interference and is equally good.
Knowlton v. Moore, 178 U.S. 41, dealt, it is true, with a legacy tax. But the tax was met with the same objection; that it usurped or interfered with the exercise of state powers, and the answer to the objection was based upon general considerations and treated the "power to transmit
The inequalities charged upon the statute, if there is an intestacy, are all inequalities in the amounts that beneficiaries might receive in case of estates of different values, of different proportions between real and personal estate, and of different numbers of recipients; or if there is a will affect legatees. As to the inequalities in case of a will they must be taken to be contemplated by the testator. He knows the law and the consequences of the disposition that he makes. As to intestate successors the tax is not imposed upon them but precedes them and the fact that they may receive less or different sums because of the statute does not concern the United States.
There remains only the construction of the act. The argument against its constitutionality is based upon a premise that is unfavorable to the contention of the plaintiffs in error upon this point. For if the tax attaches to the estate before distribution — if it is a tax on the right