Burlington Northern R. Co. v. Oklahoma Tax Comm’n

481 U. S. 454

April 28, 1987

Burlington Northern again? What the heck was going on at that railroad in the 1980s? After seeing them three times in 1987, they will not show up again until 1992. In any event, a law passed by Congress prohibited states from imposing discriminatory taxes on railroad property, and allowed for judicial remedy if such a tax were ever levied. In this case, Burlington Northern argued that Oklahoma’s computation of the value of the railroad’s property was way off, and that the resulting property tax was thus discriminatory.

Unanimously, the Court held that a railroad could sue under the act for an alleged miscomputation of property value. Marshall looked to the plain text of the act, which clearly implied in more than one place that the property assessment itself could be subjected to legal review. Marshall also rejected the claim that evidence of discriminatory intent on the part of Oklahoma was necessary for a legal challenge. Once again, it was the plain text of the statute itself which he used in response. Textualism FTW!

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