Sometimes a constitutional amendment just isn't enough

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Despite being firmly stuck in the first two decades of the 20th century, Glenn Beck's history-mangling machine is chugging along at full-steam, reinventing facts at will to demonize the progressive movement. On Tuesday he smeared Teddy Roosevelt as anti-Constitution, on Monday he said George Bernard Shaw's pro-eugenics rhetoric spoke for all progressives, and last Friday he tied the entire progressive movement to the genocidal policies of communist dictators.

Last night, he set his sights on Woodrow Wilson and the income tax:

BECK: Woodrow Wilson, this is an evil S.O.B. Man, you need to read about Wilson. Bad dude. He passed the Revenue Act of 1913. Blatantly unconstitutional, but people let it slide because it was only going to be on the rich. [Glenn Beck, 1/27/10]

It's true that Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Revenue Act of 1913, which established a federal income tax to offset revenue losses from the bill's prescribed reduction in tariff duties. However, a federal tax on income had been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1895. So what happened in the intervening years that allowed Congress and the president to enact this law? The Sixteenth Amendment.

Proposed, passed by Congress, and ratified by the states during the administration of Wilson's predecessor, William Howard Taft, the amendment empowered Congress to "lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration." The passage of the amendment overruled the 1895 Supreme Court decision, and in 1916 the court upheld the constitutionality of the Revenue Act of 1913 and the federal income tax it established. Several circuit court rulings since then have reached the same conclusion.

So when Beck says the Revenue Act of 1913 was "blatantly unconstitutional," he is either a) relying on precedent that was overturned almost a century ago, b) unaware of the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, or c) lying.

Person
Glenn Beck
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