Supreme Court Rules in Case of Federal Taxation of Unrealized Income

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to uphold the constitutionality of mandatory repatriation tax (MRT) enacted in 2017, but chose to sidestep and not rule on the issue of whether the Constitution imposes a realization requirement on the taxation of income. (Moore v. United States)

Background & The Decision

  • The petitioners in Moore argued that the MRT exceeds Congress’s authority under the 16th Amendment to lay and collect taxes on income. The Moore’s were shareholders of a foreign corporation. The corporation never distributed its earnings, but the MRT taxed the Moore’s on their deemed share of the corporation’s income. The Moore’s argued that the federal government could not tax them on income they never realized. (Roundtable Weekly, Oct. 13)
  • A decision in favor of the Moore’s could have important consequences for both legislative proposals to tax unrealized gains, but also existing aspects of the tax code and pass-through taxation. 
  • The Ninth Circuit ruled against the Moore’s on the grounds that there is no realization requirement in the Constitution. 
  • The Roundtable has consistently opposed proposals to tax unrealized gains on several grounds, including their constitutionality and the damage they would cause to the economy, entrepreneurship, and productive investment. 
  • The Supreme Court, in a decision authored by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, stepped back from the sweeping holding by Ninth Circuit and concluded that it did not need to rule on the realization question because the foreign company’s operating income was clearly “realized” by the foreign company. In passing the MRT, Congress was simply attributing (or passing through) that income to its U.S. shareholders. 
  • The 7-2 opinion by Justice Kavanagh was accompanied by two concurring opinions, one from Justice Jackson and one from Justice Barrett (joined by Justice Alito). Justices Thomas and Gorsuch dissented. 
  • While the Real Estate Roundtable’s Tax Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) and its members are still parsing the language of the various opinions to understand the broader implications, at the end of the day, there appear to be at least four justices willing to uphold a realization requirement (Barrett, Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch), one justice prepared to hold that realization is not required (Jackson), and four justices who have not yet tipped their hand (Kavanaugh, Roberts, Sotomayor, and Kagan).  See analysis of Moore decision by TPAC member Don Susswein (Principal, RSM US LLP)

The Moore ruling is unlikely the last word in the heated debate over the constitutionality of taxing unrealized gains.

Congressional Tax Package and Supreme Court Case Focal Points at Roundtable Meeting

Tax policy issues impacting commercial real estate were front and center during This Roundtable’s Jan. 23 State of the Industry (SOI) meeting as policy discussions with congressional tax writers, issue experts, and Roundtable members ranged from specific measures in a recently approved tax package by the House Ways and Means Committee to a landmark Supreme Court case.

Tax: What Lies Ahead

Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey Deboer shakes hands with Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR)
  • Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), right with The Roundtable’s Jeffrey DeBoer, discussed the recent tax package passed by the House Ways and Means Committee and its uncertain path in the Senate. In addition to an expansion of the low-income housing tax credit, the $77 billion bill includes a retroactive, four-year extension (2022–2025) of the taxpayer-favorable EBITDA standard for measuring the amount of business interest deductible under section 163(j). It also contains an extension of 100% bonus depreciation through the end of 2025. (Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 19)
Tax panel with Ryan McCormick and congressional tax staff
  • “What’s in Front of Congressional Tax Writers: 2024 and Beyond” was explored by (left to right) Roundtable Senior Vice President and Counsel Ryan McCormick; Mark Roman, (Staff Director, Republican Majority House Ways and Means Committee); and Joshua Sheinkman (Staff Director, Democrat Majority Senate Finance Committee).  The congressional tax experts discussed measures in the recent tax package and noted the scheduled expiration of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) incentives at the end of 2025—and what proposals may emerge to extend them.

Supreme Court Challenge

•	Roundtable Tax Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) member Don Susswein (Principal, RSM US LLP)
  • Roundtable Tax Policy Advisory Committee (TPAC) member Don Susswein (Principal, RSM US LLP) presented an overview of an important Supreme Court case (Moore v. United States) that challenges the federal government’s constitutional authority to tax unrealized income. (Roundtable Weekly, Dec. 8)

TPAC holds monthly Zoom calls on timely, compelling tax policy issues affecting CRE. If you are interested in joining, contact The Roundtable’s Ryan McCormick.

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