ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.
In 1893 a law was enacted in California, imposing a charge on collateral inheritances and on bequests and devises. California Stat. 1893, p. 193. The burdens which the law imposed were not laid upon inheritances, bequests or devises in favor of the father, mother, husband, wife, children, brother or sister of a decedent, or wife or widow of a son, or the husband of a daughter of the decedent, adopted children and certain public and charitable corporations. In the year 1899 the law of 1893 was amended. The amendment caused the charge imposed by the prior act to become applicable in the case of brothers and sisters of a decedent. This resulted because the amendment omitted brothers and sisters from the enumeration made in the act of 1893 of persons to whom the act was not to apply. California Stat. 1899, p. 101.
In December, 1900, Cornelial E. Campbell died intestate in the city of San Francisco, and her estate was administered upon by the appropriate court. In December, 1901, a final decree was entered, apportioning the estate remaining, after the payment of certain specified amounts, among three brothers and a sister who are the plaintiffs in error in this court. One of the sums directed by the decree to be paid before distribution was a collateral inheritance charge of $488.70, under the act of 1893 as amended in 1899.
The brothers and sister appealed to the Supreme Court of California from that portion of the decree directing the payment of the charge just mentioned. The validity of the law imposing the burden was assailed upon various grounds of a local nature, and upon the Federal ground that the amendatory act of 1899, in so far as it purported to impose a charge on inheritances, bequests or devises to brothers and sisters, denied the equal protection of the laws, and was hence repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The Supreme Court of California affirmed the decree. In doing so it held that the contentions of a local nature were without merit,
and that the act of 1893 as amended by the act of 1899 was not in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment. 143 California 623.
With the questions of a local nature decided by the state court we are not concerned, and shall therefore confine our attention to the Federal question, that is, the alleged repugnancy to the Fourteenth Amendment, imposing the burden in question on brothers and sisters.
The asserted repugnance of the statute to the Constitution of the United States, as elaborately argued at bar, rests upon the proposition that the statute denied to brothers and sisters of a decedent the equal protection of the laws, because the statute embraced an inheritance, bequest or devise in favor of a brother or sister, and did not include bequests or devises in favor of a wife or widow of a son or the husband of a daughter of the decedent.
Before coming to consider this subject we must notice a wholly independent question, which the plaintiffs in error assert renders a reversal necessary, irrespective of the merits of the contention based upon the Federal question.
In March, 1905, since the record on this writ of error was filed in this court, the State of California enacted a new inheritance tax law. California Stat. 1905, p. 341. This act differs from the act of 1893 as amended in 1899 in many particulars. It includes within the classes subjected to the burdens imposed persons not embraced in the act of 1893 as amended, and whilst it does not except from its operation persons embraced in the prior act as amended, creates as to some of such persons a different rate and carves out exemptions as to designated amounts of property, not found in the earlier act. Besides, by the act, brothers and sisters or a descendant of such brothers and sisters, and the wife or widow of a son or a husband of a daughter of a decedent, are made subject to a like charge, less, however, in rate than the one theretofore imposed upon a brother or sister. The act of 1905, as declared in its title and as manifested by its provisions, was intended to cover generally the subject of inheritance taxes, and by necessary effect operated to amend and
re-enact the prior laws on the subject. In the body of the act was contained a section (27), expressly repealing the act of 1893 and the amendments thereto, without embodying a clause saving the right of the State in respect to ...