A lawsuit over a Santa suit is a window into countless largely hidden fights in Washington that shape the stuff we buy. It’s one man's battle against the U.S. government — and, in a way, against himself.
This episode of National Public Radio’s “Planet Money” program first aired in 2015 and was re-posted earlier this year as a “Summer School” class on trade. The original show was hosted by Jacob Goldstein and Stacey Vanek Smith, who in this excerpt discuss the context of the holiday-themed dispute.
GOLDSTEIN: This fight over Santa suits plays out on this wall right in front of us... And it's a fight over tariffs. Most of the suits are made overseas. Marc imports them, and of course, when he imports them, he has to bring them through Customs. And depending on what he's importing, sometimes he has to pay a tariff. He has to pay a tax.
VANEK SMITH: And whether he has to pay that tariff and how much he has to pay is laid out in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States.
GOLDSTEIN: Harmonized Tariff Schedule.
VANEK SMITH: It is a 99 chapters long, and it lists tens of thousands of specific items. But it doesn't list everything. There is no line item that says costumes or Santa suits, so there has been this long-running fight. Where do costumes belong in the tariff code?
Spoiler Alert: The case referred to at the end of the story (Rubies Costume Company v the United States) appealing a ruling by the U.S. Court of International Trade was eventually resolved by the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals in 2019; the decision can be read here.