On one occasion, however, George Shiras became the center of national attention in a controversial case. In the last years of the 19th century, the Supreme Court considered a constitutional challenge to the federal income tax law passed in 1894. The case, Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. (1895), stirred national passions and produced no little confusion on the Supreme Court itself. On the issue of whedter a tax on private and corporate incomes was a “direct” tax, and thus required by the Constitution to be apportioned to the states according to their populations, the Court split badly. Only eight justices participated in the original decision of the case, and these divided evenly on the crucial question. At the time, Shiras was widely believed to have been one of the justices who voted to uphold the constitutionality of the income tax, though the positions of the justices in the original decision were not announced by die Court. Instead, the justices decided to reconsider the case. Justice Howell Edmunds Jackson, suffering from a terminal illness, had not participated in the original decision, but when the Court reconsidered the matter, he cast his vote in support of the consti-tutionality of the tax. 1 he final vote in the case, though, was 5-4, invalidating die income tax. This meant that one of the justices who had originally approved the tax had switched his vote. At the time, Shiras was thought to be the guilty party, though subsequent Court historians have doubted this. In any event, Shiras suffered fierce attacks for his vote in the case, and he was momentarily cast into the harsh glare of attention front a nation that would ultimately vote the justices down by enacting the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913, authorizing the federal income tax.
Party affiliation: Republican Party