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First Amendment Library:
William E. Keadle


Arkansas' Gross Receipts Act imposed a sales tax on dozens of services, including the provision of cable television. The Act, however, exempted from taxation receipts from newspaper and magazine sales. The cable television industry in Arkansas brought suit challenging the Act, arguing that Arkansas could not constitutionally tax cable television when it was not taxing the print media. The trial court rejected this argument. While the case was on appeal, Arkansas amended the Act to tax all television and radio services. The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the trial court's decision, stating that the First Amendment does not prohibit different taxation of different members of the media. The Arkansas Supreme Court, however, also held that the First Amendment does prohibit differential taxation among member of the same medium and therefore found that the Act was unconstitutional to the extent that it, before the amendment, taxed cable television differently from satellite television services. Differential taxation of speakers and publishers is constitutionally suspect when it threatens to suppress the expression of particular ideas or viewpoints. A tax also is suspect if it targets a small group of speakers. Moreover, a tax triggers heightened scrutiny if it discriminates among speakers based on the content of their speech.Arkansas Writers' Project, Inc. v. Ragland, 481 U.S. 221 (1987); Minneapolis Star & Tribune Co. v. Minnesota Comm'r of Revenue, 460 U.S. 575 (1983); Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233 (1936).