Appeals court sides with W.Va. in pandemic-era taxing case

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Sep. 19—West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has won another court victory against the Biden administration — this time in a case stemming back from the early days of the pandemic.

The latest ruling in favor of the Mountain State comes from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta in a two-year-old case involving what Morrisey calls a "tax mandate" buried in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

West Virginia, and a 13-state coalition, argued that federal treasury officials couldn't force states to relinquish control of their taxing authority in return for economic aid related to COVID-19.

The 11th circuit appeals court denied the U.S. Department of Treasury's motion for a full panel review of the court's earlier January decision. That decision, which West Virginia argued in September 2022, stemmed from the Biden administration's appeal of a November 2021 victory that had protected what Morrisey called the "well-established authority of states to lower taxes for their citizens."

"This case is about state's sovereignty, and I'm pleased the court reiterated the January ruling," Morrisey, a Republican, said in a prepared statement. "Our lawsuit was designed to protect West Virginia from federal overreach. We have fought back against that overreach with the November 2021 win in district court, but the Biden administration kept on insisting their interpretation of the law is correct."

"It was not, and the court agreed," Morrisey said in reference to the most recent appeals court victory in favor of West Virginia.

By broadly preventing all 50 states from exercising their tax powers effectively, Morrisey said the stimulus bill provision amounted to "one of the most egregious power grabs by the federal government in the nation's history."

The district court in November 2021 held the tax mandate violates the U.S. Constitution's Spending Clause. The court ruled that Congress must be clear if it intends to impose such a condition on the granting of federal monies — that is, it must do so unambiguously. The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Secretary of the Treasury appealed that decision in January of 2022.

In addition to West Virginia, the 13-states that challenged the tax mandate included Alabama and Arkansas with support from Alaska, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.

Morrisey said the latest ruling further empowers the individual states to pass tax cuts as they choose — just like the tax cuts approved by the Mountain State's Republican super majority in March of this year.

Morrisey, a 2024 candidate for governor in West Virginia, has won multiple court victories against the Biden administration over the last three years.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens