High court seems to lean against West Virginia in tax case

National Legal News

The Supreme Court seemed inclined Monday to side with a retired U.S. marshal who argues West Virginia is discriminating against former federal law enforcement officers like him by giving a more generous tax break to former state law enforcement officers.

James Dawson says West Virginia currently exempts the vast majority of state law enforcement retirees — including police and firefighters — from paying income tax on their retirement benefits. But retired U.S. Marshals Service employees like him don't get that perk. Dawson has to pay income tax on his retirement benefits except for the first $2,000 annually, which is tax free.

Dawson says federal law prohibits West Virginia from taxing his retirement income more heavily than it taxes the retirement income of those who did a similar job working for the state.

During arguments before the Supreme Court on Monday, both conservative and liberal justices seemed more willing to side with Dawson. Justice Neil Gorsuch asked West Virginia's attorney Lindsay See why looking at the text of the federal law wasn't "game over," ending the case in Dawson's favor. And Justice Stephen Breyer listed a number of those getting better tax treatment than Dawson.

"It's not just the state police. It's also the local police. It's everybody in law enforcement almost. And they can get into it and the feds can't. Why isn't that just the end of it?" Breyer said.

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