Legislation – Application of Merchantile License Tax to Lawyers

The Philadelphia City Council passed an ordinance entitled “An Ordinance–To provide for revenue by imposing a mercantile license tax on persons engaging in certain businesses including manufacturing, professions, occupations, trades, vocations, and commercial activities in the City of Philadelphia. . . .” Under this ordinance the city required lawyers to register, pay a registration fee, and pay a tax on a percentage of their gross volume of business; thereupon, “mercantile licenses” were issued to them. The city charter required each ordinance to deal with one subject only and to express that subject in the title. The application of the ordinance to lawyers was attacked under the sponsorship of the Philadelphia Bar Association, and the lower court enjoined enforcement against lawyers. On appeal, held, reversed. Sterling v. Philadelphia, 378 Pa. 538, 106 A (2d) 793 (1954).