Supreme Court lets states charge internet retailers more in taxes

The Supreme Court rules against Wayfair and other online retailers and overturns ban on the collection of online sales taxes. Jenny Kane  AP

This decision overturned a 1992 ruling, which allowed these platforms to use the internet as a tax-free haven.

The case is South Dakota v. Wayfair, 17-494.

"In light of internet retailers' pervasive and continuous virtual presence in the states where their websites are accessible, the states have ample authority to require those retailers to collect state sales taxes owed by their customers", U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco said in a friend-of-the-court brief.

"Prior to today, Quill required that, to force out-of-state retailers to collect tax on sales to residents of the state, the out-of-state retailer had to have a physical presence in the state", said Jon Barooshian, a partner at law firm Bowditch.

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State and local governments had grown increasingly agitated as sales from brick and mortar retailers gave way to online retail, which now comprises approximately 9.5% of the dollar value of total purchases.

Most states would need to pass legislation before seeking to collect the additional taxes, although some have already enacted laws or regulations similar to South Dakota's. The conservative chief justice, John Roberts dissented along with liberals Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. That minimum requirement was likely meant to avoid an undue burden on small-time mom-and-pop sellers on eBay, Amazon or other online marketplaces. South Dakota's governor has said his state loses out on an estimated $50m a year in sales tax that doesn't get collected by out-of-state sellers.

The Trump administration backed South Dakota in the case, arguing that no one could have foreseen how rapidly e-commerce would expand. After the decision was announced, shares in Wayfair and Overstock both fell, with Wayfair down more than 3 percent and Overstock down more than 2 percent. Most other major online retailers have followed suit, simply because it's become cheaper for them to collect the tax and majority have a "physical presence" in much of the country anyway, as fulfillment centers are popping up everywhere. First, the Act applies a safe harbor to those who transact only limited business in South Dakota.

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