Opinion of the Court
quences for the national economy, as businesses could be subjected to severe multiple taxation. But the Due Process Clause also underlies our decisions in this area. Although our modern due process jurisprudence rejects a rigid, formalistic definition of minimum connection, we have not abandoned the requirement that, in the case of a tax on an activity, there must be a connection to the activity itself, rather than a connection only to the actor the State seeks to tax, see Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, ante, at 306-308. The constitutional question in a case such as Quill Corp. is whether the State has the authority to tax the corporation at all. The present inquiry, by contrast, focuses on the guidelines necessary to circumscribe the reach of the State's legitimate power to tax. We are guided by the basic principle that the State's power to tax an individual's or corporation's activities is justified by the "protection, opportunities and benefits" the State confers on those activities. Wisconsin v. J. C. Penney Co., 311 U. S. 435, 444 (1940).
Because of the complications and uncertainties in allocating the income of multistate businesses to the several States, we permit States to tax a corporation on an apportionable share of the multistate business carried on in part in the taxing State. That is the unitary business principle. It is not a novel construct, but one that we approved within a short time after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. We now give a brief summary of its development.
When States attempted to value railroad or telegraph companies for property tax purposes, they encountered the difficulty that what makes such a business valuable is the enterprise as a whole, rather than the track or wires that happen to be located within a State's borders. The Court held that, consistent with the Due Process Clause, a State could base its tax assessments upon "the proportionate part of the value resulting from the combination of the means by which the business was carried on, a value existing to anPage: Index Previous 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Next
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