Tariff Classification

Tariff Classification and the U.S. Federal Courts: The Twenty Most Significant Precedents

By Mike Smiszek, Senior Trade Advisor, Braumiller Consulting Group


Tariff classification-related court precedents have significantly shaped the way importers, brokers, consultants, lawyers, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) classify goods today under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS, or simply HTS). This is true even for many precedents that predate the HTS. The precedential value of these cases lies not necessarily in the facts of any specific dispute—although the context of each case is crucial to understanding a court’s reasoning—but, more often, in the insightful guidance they provide on classification methodology that can be applied broadly to similar scenarios. As well, these court opinions serve as important educational resources for everyone professionally invested in the tariff classification process. 

This article attempts to identify the twenty tariff classification precedents whose influence stands head-and-shoulders over all others. (NB: Excluded from this exercise are antidumping and countervailing duty cases, as well as those that address Section 201, 232, or 301 duties.) There are plenty of cases to choose from, as several thousand classification-related opinions have been issued over the past two hundred years by the federal courts. Some cases, of course, have proved to be more influential than others, but measuring importance and influence is largely a matter of personal judgment so please keep in mind that the cases identified below represent just one man’s list.

Classification methodology

Classification methodology changed when the HTSUS replaced the Tariff Schedules of the United States (TSUS) in 1989. Importers still, of course, had to identify the relevant facts about their goods, but they were forced to learn a brand-new classification process based on a set of binding rules called the General Rules of Interpretation (GRIs) and the Additional U.S. Rules of Interpretation (AUSRIs). A comparison of the TSUS and the HTS reveals many similarities between the GRIs|AUSRIs and the equivalent rules in the TSUS known as the General Interpretive Rules, found in General Note 10. But there are also important differences. For example, although the language of GN 10(e)(i) and (ii) looks similar to AUSRI 1(a) and (b), the former was premised on the concept of “chief use” while the latter relies on “principal use”. Common sense might dictate that chief use and principal use are equivalent terms, but these terms don’t share the same statutory authority and context, hence they cannot be used interchangeably. A court’s application of chief use in a TSUS-era dispute cannot control a later court’s application of principal use under the HTS.

Under the HTS we find that many classification decisions can be made easily and without controversy. Everyone can agree, for example, that golf balls are objectively classified under 9506.32 per GRI 1 and GRI 6. But sometimes an item is classifiable, prima facie, under two or more headings or subheadings, which necessarily requires a subjective analysis per GRI 3 that may lead to disagreement between an importer and CBP. An unhappy importer can protest a liquidated entry believed to be misclassified. If CBP denies the protest, the now really unhappy importer can seek remedy from the federal courts. But which courts currently hold jurisdiction over classification disputes, and how has this jurisdiction evolved over the years?

U.S. Federal Courts and Classification Disputes

Congress has from time to time modified the scope and jurisdiction of all the courts that comprise the federal judiciary, including the specialized courts tasked with handling trade-related litigation. Since its creation in 1980 the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) has held jurisdiction as the trial court for most trade-related disputes, while the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), created in 1982, hears appeals of CIT decisions. Classification cases in the CIT are typically decided by a single judge, while CAFC decisions are usually issued by a three-judge panel. The CIT and CAFC were preceded, respectively, by the Customs Court and the Court of Customs and Patents Appeals (CCPA), which were themselves preceded respectively by a tribunal known as the Board of General Appraisers (BGA) and by the Court of Customs Appeals (CCA). It’s important to note, too, that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was common for the Supreme Court to ultimately decide tariff classification cases. But after Congress enacted legislation to reform the judiciary in 1925, the Supreme Court subsequently decided many fewer tariff-related disputes. Indeed, in the HTS era the Supreme Court has, so far, agreed to resolve only two classification disputes: United States v. Haggar Apparel Co. in 1999 (involving duty exemption under heading 9802), and United States v. Mead Corp. in 2001 (discussed below).

The List

So, without further ado, here, in chronological order, is my list of the twenty most impactful tariff classification precedents issued by U.S. federal courts, along with a brief explanation of each decision’s significance:

1 — Worthington v. Robbins, 139 U.S. 337 (1891)

Robbins, a watch manufacturer, imported “white hard enamel” which Customs classified as “watch materials” because the enamel was imported “for use in making watch dials, and was in fact so used.” Robbins claimed that the enamel ought to be classified under a basket provision that included “all articles manufactured, in whole or in part, not herein enumerated or provided for.” The Supreme Court agreed with Robbins, ruling that: “In order to produce uniformity in the imposition of duties, the dutiable classification of articles imported must be ascertained by an examination of the imported article itself, in the condition in which it is imported.” Thus, the condition-as-imported precedent was established.

2 — Merritt v. Welsh, 104 U.S. 694 (1892)

This is the Supreme Court decision that recognized an importer’s right to fashion a product to enjoy a lower duty rate—provided that at the time of import the product isn’t in an artificial state that would never exist but for an attempt to reduce the duty rate. “So long as no deception is practiced, so long as the goods are truly invoiced and freely and honestly exposed to the officers of customs for their examination, no fraud is committed, no penalty is incurred.” In affirming the lower court decision, the Supreme Court said that Welsh, a sugar importer, could adjust the color of its sugar to satisfy a tariff provision premised on color: “Great stress is laid on the charge that sugars are manufactured in dark colors on purpose to evade our duties. Suppose this is true; has not a manufacturer a right to make his goods as he pleases?” This is the granddaddy of tariff engineering opinions.

3 — United States v. Citroen, 223 U.S. 407 (1912)

Bernard Citroen imported drilled but unstrung pearls, although the facts showed that “they had been strung from time to time on a silk cord” prior to import. Strung pearls were dutiable at 60% but unstrung pearls were subject to only a 10% duty rate. Building upon its reasoning in Merritt, the Supreme Court said that “[t]he inquiry must be—Does the article, as imported, fall within the description sought to be applied?” The Court sided with the importer and reinstated the BGA’s original opinion that the pearls were subject to the unstrung duty rate under paragraph 436 of the Tariff Act of 1897. This decision effectively endorsed the condition-as-imported standard established in Worthington that remains applicable today.

4 — United States v. Aetna Explosives Co., 256 U.S. 402 (1921)

Aetna Explosives imported nitric acid, which apparently is extremely corrosive to the steel tank cars typically used to transport the acid, but as noted by the Supreme Court this corrosion dilemma is eliminated when a relatively small amount of sulfuric acid is added to the nitric acid. The two acids—which separately were both dutiable at 5%—retain their distinct identities when added to the same tank car, resulting in a mechanical mixture that is readily reversed. The sulfuric acid in the imported mixture represented about twenty percent of the mixture’s weight and about five percent of its value. Apparently no commercial market existed for a mixture of the two acids, a fact that helped to convince both the appellate court and the Supreme Court that the sulfuric acid was added solely to facilitate the safe transport of the nitric acid. The Court agreed with the CCA opinion that “there was neither an advantage to the importer in adding the requisite amount of sulphuric acid to admit of safe shipment of the nitric acid nor was there any possible loss of revenue to the Government. … The quantity is relatively insignificant. We think that the true rule is that the introduction of a quantity of sulphuric acid solely for the purpose of rendering the transportation of nitric acid safe, and which does not result in a usable mixture, is more in the nature of an act of shipment than an admixture and does not produce a substance” which, therefore, was dutiable at 5% rather than at 15% as a chemical compound, preparation, or mixture.

5 — United States v. Willoughby Camera Stores, Inc., 21 C.C.P.A. 322 (CCPA 1933)

This touchstone precedent drew the line in the sand between what can and cannot be classified under a “parts” provision. Willoughby Camera imported camera tripods. The question before the CCPA on appeal was whether a tripod ought to be classified as a part of a camera. The court said “it is a well-established rule that a ‘part’ of an article is something necessary to the completion of that article. It is an integral, constituent, or component part, without which the article to which it is to be joined, could not function as such article. … The mere fact that two articles are designed and constructed to be used together, does not necessarily make either a part of the other. … It not being shown that the tripods in question are essential to the use of cameras, there is no basis for classifying them as parts of cameras.” This opinion, accompanied by two separate concurring opinions, reversed the Customs Court’s decision. Although not the first case to address the classification of parts—indeed, the court cited more than a dozen prior cases—Willoughby Camera remains nearly ninety years later one of most-cited parts opinions, both in court opinions and CBP rulings. Today Willoughby Camera complements an analysis under AUSRI 1(c) of the HTS.

6 — United States v. Antonio Pompeo, 43 C.C.P.A. 9 (CCPA 1955)

Pompeo is another precedential “parts” case often cited together with Willoughby Camera. Pompeo imported automotive superchargers specially designed for use in certain Ford and Austin cars. These superchargers were optional equipment; an engine apparently worked perfectly well without a supercharger, a mechanism that increased “the pressure at which the gasoline-air mixture [was] fed” into the engine, but once the supercharger was installed the engine wouldn’t operate if the supercharger failed. The court focused its opinion on specific use, ruling that “there seems to be no doubt but that the involved superchargers are ‘parts’ of automobiles after they are installed upon the automobiles. Since the imported superchargers at time of importation are dedicated solely for use upon automobiles … and since when applied to that use they clearly meet the definition of ‘parts’ established by the Willoughby case, we are of the opinion that they were correctly classified as parts for automobiles.” Pompeo also serves as a complement to AUSRI 1(c).

7 — United States v. The Carborundum Co., 536 F.2d 373 (CCPA 1976)

This CCPA opinion regarding the TSUS classification of an iron-silicon alloy powder gave us the seven precedential “Carborundum factors” that are frequently applied by the courts and CBP as a guide to determine “whether imported merchandise falls within a particular class or kind” of goods. The seven factors, which provide a helpful roadmap for conducting a principal use analysis pursuant to AUSRI 1(a), are: 

1. the general physical characteristics of the merchandise;
2. the expectation of the ultimate purchasers;
3. the channels, class or kind of trade in which the merchandise moves;
4. the environment of the sale (i.e., accompanying accessories and the manner in which the merchandise is advertised and displayed);
5. the use, if any, in the same manner as merchandise which defines the class;
6. the economic practicality of so using the import; and
7. the recognition in the trade of this use.

8 — Jarvis Clark v. United States, 739 F.2d 628 (Fed. Cir. 1984)

In this TSUS classification case over tippler hoppers, the CAFC ruled that it’s not enough for the courts to simply show that a proposed classification is wrong. The courts have the affirmative responsibility to determine the correct classification. The government wasn’t happy with the CAFC’s decision and asked for a rehearing. The CAFC, in denying the request, commented that the government’s brief was “all sound and fury, but advances no argument that the Court did not consider in its first decision.” The court took a few paragraphs to reinforce its original decision, saying that a “judicial decision will now represent a statement of correct law, useful to future importers, rather than simply a narrow ruling based on the particular circumstances in the case” and further noted that “the best proof that a customs classification is wrong is proof that a different classification is right, or at least preferable.”

9 — Bauerhin Technologies Ltd. Partnership v. United States, 110 F.3d 774 (Fed. Cir. 1997)

Bauerhin is an important CAFC parts decision—perhaps the most significant HTSUS-era parts-related case so far—that builds upon the foundations laid by Willoughby Camera and Pompeo. Bauerhin claimed that two discrete items it had imported, a cushioned seat insert and a canopy, ought to be classified as parts of child automobile safety seats. The CAFC, in reversing the CIT’s decision regarding the seat insert, found that although the product was classifiable under two headings (9401 and 9404), “if the seat inserts are otherwise classifiable within both headings 9404 and 9401, Note 3(b) expressly excludes them from heading 9401.” Although the court was silent on the applicable GRIs, their determination is based on GRI 1 rather than GRI 3. Regarding the canopy, however, the CAFC agreed with the CIT’s determination that the canopy was properly classified as a dedicated part of a car safety seat, per AUSRI 1(c), noting that it “serves no function or purpose that is independent of the child safety seat.”

10 — Clarendon Marketing, Inc. v. United States, 144 F.3d 1464 (Fed. Cir. 1998)

In this case, which explored the classification of naphtha at the subheading level under HTS heading 2710, the CAFC sought to clarify the interplay among eo nomine, principal use, and actual use provisions. This opinion also reinforces the loose canon that a principal use provision generally, but not always, takes precedence over an eo nomine provision. The CAFC concluded its opinion (which affirmed the CIT’s ruling) by noting that the court was powerless to base its decision on what Congress may have intended to say. Rather, the court correctly used the actual words of the statute: “We are not unsympathetic with the Government’s view that good sense, at least as the Government sees it, calls for a result different from that which the statute seems to dictate. This is the kind of case that challenges a court’s commitment to the primacy of the legislative branch in the writing of law. It would not be difficult to construct an opinion holding that Congress, had it thought about this problem, would have written the statute differently, and therefore the court should impose the rule we think Congress would have preferred to the one it wrote. That, however, does honor neither to the respective roles of Congress nor the court.”

11 — Carl Zeiss, Inc. v. United States, 195 F.3d 1375 (Fed. Cir. 1999)

Zeiss imported a composite good “specially tailored for neurosurgical use” called a ZMS 319, comprising a microscope, a stand, and accessories that included a camera. The question before the CAFC was whether the product ought to be classified as a compound optical microscope under eo nomine heading 9011 or under heading 9018, a principal use provision for “instruments and appliances used in medical, surgical, dental or veterinary sciences”. The court looked at the common meaning of the term “compound optical microscope” and found that the good was prima facie classifiable under heading 9011, but it also found that the good was prima facie classifiable under heading 9018. Hence the court had to rely on GRI 3(a), which requires that the “heading which provides the most specific description shall be preferred to headings providing a more general description.” Ultimately the court affirmed the CIT’s decision, finding that heading 9011 described the good with greater specificity than heading 9018.

12 — JVC Co. of America, Div. of US JVC Corp. v. United States, 234 F.3d 1348 (Fed. Cir. 2000)

The CAFC was called upon to resolve on appeal a classification disagreement over camcorders (remember those?). CBP had liquidated the camcorders under heading 8525 as “television cameras”, but JVC asserted “that because camcorders have two co-equal and independent functions, a camcorder is ‘more than’ a television camera, and therefore is not classifiable as one.” CAFC noted that although the “more than” doctrine was commonly applied under the TSUS, the “the issue whether the ‘more than’ doctrine continues to apply under the HTSUS has not been settled.” The doctrine was effectively laid to rest with these two sentences: “The government argues that the judicially-created ‘more than’ doctrine does not apply to cases arising under the HTSUS because it has been subsumed into the GRIs. We agree and hereby settle the issue for the benefit of future adjudication of classification cases.”

13 — United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218 (2001)

This case is on my list if for no other reason than it’s a rare modern-era foray by the Supreme Court into HTS tariff classification. For several years Mead imported “day planners” under a duty-free subheading until CBP issued a binding ruling that changed the classification to a dutiable subheading. The CIT initially ruled in favor of CBP, but that decision was reversed by the CAFC. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case to decide whether a court was obligated to give Chevron (1984) deference to a CBP ruling letter. The Court, in an 8-1 decision, determined that a CBP ruling is not subject to Chevron deference but instead must now meet the less-demanding threshold of deference specified in a labor-relations case called Skidmore (1944): “the thoroughness evident in its consideration, the validity of its reasoning, its consistency with earlier and later pronouncements, and all those factors which give it power to persuade”. The case was remanded to the CAFC, which reversed the CIT’s decision because the “classification ruling at issue here lacks the power to persuade under the principles set forth in Skidmore.” I recommend reading each Mead decision, including Justice Scalia’s dissent, as well as the Chevron and Skidmore opinions.

14 — Rollerblade, Inc. v. United States, 282 F.3d 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2002)

The term “accessory” is not defined in the HTS, but this case provided practical guidance on the tariff treatment of accessories. Here the court determined that protective gear (e.g., knee and elbow pads, and wrist guards) worn by an in-line roller skater (a.k.a. rollerblader) could not be classified as accessories to in-line roller skates because the protective gear had no physical connection to the skates, nor did the gear “directly affect the skates’ operation.” The gear enhanced a rollerblader’s safety while enjoying the activity of rollerblading, but the gear did not in any way change or improve the skate’s physical characteristics, functionality, or use—hence the gear could not be classified as accessories for (or parts of) the skates.

15 — United States v. Optrex America, Inc., 560 F. Supp. 1326 (Ct. Int’l Trade 2008)

I thought it was important to include a CIT opinion that addressed civil penalties for misclassification. Optrex was penalized under the negligence provision of 19 U.S.C. § 1592 for its actions and non-actions regarding the classification of certain LCD panels. Optrex evidently ignored the prudent advice of its outside counsel to seek binding rulings from CBP and to comply with a 1997 classification decision by the CAFC in Sharp Microelectronics Technology, Inc. This case gives importers clear guidance on how to achieve an acceptable level of reasonable care when classifying goods under the HTS, thereby protecting itself from allegations of negligence under Section 592.

16 — Heartland By-Products, Inc. v. United States, 568 F.3d 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2009)

This case, along with the Ford decision discussed later, reveals the inherent dangers faced by importers who pursue tariff engineering. A Michigan company called Heartland By-Products imported a sugar syrup. The pickle Heartland found itself in was that, although the physical nature of the imported syrup wasn’t misrepresented to CBP, the CAFC ultimately ruled that the physical characteristics didn’t represent a legitimate commercial mixture. In other words, the syrup, as imported, was in a condition that never would occur at any point in the course of normal manufacturing, except as an artifice to shoehorn the syrup into a provision that had a lower duty rate.

17 — Honda of America Manufacturing, Inc. v. United States, 607 F.3d 771 (Fed. Cir. 2010)

Honda imported hollow “oil bolts” specifically designed for automotive and motorcycle use. The CAFC had to decide whether to affirm the CIT’s decision—which classified the “bolts” as “parts of general use” under heading 7318—or to classify them under a “parts” provision in chapter 87. Honda claimed that the classification analysis had to be conducted under GRI 3, but the court said that GRI 1 was applicable because “the oil bolts are not prima facie classifiable under any Chapter 87 headings.” The CAFC found that the “bolts” were indeed “parts of general use” because of their fastening function, despite the fact that their hollow design served another important function, which was to facilitate the flow of oil or other engine fluids.

18 — Dell Products LP v. United States, 642 F.3d 1055 (Fed. Cir. 2011)

The CAFC was asked to interpret the phrase “goods put up in sets for retail sale” in the context of GRI 3(b). Dell sold various computers and computer accessories to retail customers who were able to customize their purchases by selecting from a menu of specific options and accessories. Dell unsuccessfully claimed that a laptop computer (including its power cord, user manual, and primary battery) and a spare battery that were sold as separately priced items but shipped together to the same customer in the same package, ought to qualify as a single good put up in a set for retail sale. The court, however, agreed with CBP that the “secondary batteries were not ‘goods put up in sets for retail sale’ with laptop computers because they were not offered for sale with those computers as a single unit of merchandise.” In other words, it was not a GRI 3(b) retail set because the customer self-configured the set. When it was issued, the Dell decision gave importers the first and only judicial guidance regarding the retail set requirements of GRI 3(b). But just one year later the CIT provided additional guidance in its Estée Lauder, Inc. decision.

19 — GRK Canada, Ltd. v. United States, 885 F.3d 1340 (Fed. Cir. 2018)

GRK Canada imported several types of screws that CBP liquidated as “wood screws”, but GRK Canada claimed that a provision for “self-tapping screws” was more appropriate. This seemingly simple classification dispute should have been settled by a reasoned application of the GRIs, but the CAFC had other ideas. Experienced classifiers know that the HTS contains different types of headings and subheadings, including eo nomine provisions guided primarily by GRI 1 and principal use provisions guided by AUSRI 1(a). The distinction between these two types of provisions has always been fairly clear-cut under the HTS—until 2014 when the CAFC said in GRK Canada that use must be considered in interpreting the common and commercial meaning of an eo nomine provision “when a provision’s name ‘inherently suggests a type of use.’” A confused classification community was forced to jump into a muddy puddle where the line between eo nomine and use provisions was less recognizable. I cite the CAFC’s 2018 decision above, but I recommend reading the earlier decisions—especially the clear-eyed dissents in the CAFC’s two 2014 opinions. Judge Reyna summed it up well in his dissent when he said that “the majority unnecessarily confuses the tariff classification analysis by requiring the CIT to consider intended use when construing the eo nomine subheadings. The majority blurs the boundaries between eo nomine and principal use provisions in ways that will promote confusion and error in future classification cases.” Fast-forward four years, and the CAFC issued another decision on screws imported by GRK Canada. It’s probably not a coincidence that Judge Reyna was assigned to write the CAFC’s 2018 damage-control opinion, in which he tempered the 2014 opinion without displacing it.

This case seemed to reanimate the guidance of a 1959 CCPA case, Quon Quon Company, in which the court said that post-import “use cannot be ignored in determining whether an article falls within an eo nomine tariff provision… Of all things most likely to help in the determination of the identity of a manufactured article, beyond the appearance factors of size, shape, construction and the like, use is of paramount importance.” Until GRK Canada, Quon Quon was incompatible with the HTS.

GRK Canada might be the most fundamentally impactful case about HTS methodology, and I think it’s my favorite case because of the stark contrast between the majority’s unfortunate opinion (in 2014) and the bruising dissents by the two judges who happened to have the most insight and experience in tariff classification matters.

20 — Ford Motor Company v. United States, 926 F.3d 741 (Fed. Cir. 2019)

Tariff engineering is already well-represented on my list with the Merritt and Heartland cases, but we revisit the subject again in a three-year-old half-baked tariff engineering opinion. Ford imported vehicles called Transit Connect that were configurable for either passenger or cargo use. Understanding that cargo vehicles were dutiable at the so-called “chicken tax” rate of 25% while passenger vehicles were dutiable merely at 2.5%, Ford configured the imported Transit Connects as passenger vehicles to qualify for the lower duty rate. But after importation, “Ford made several changes to the subject merchandise once the merchandise cleared Customs”. One of the major changes was the removal of second-row passenger seats, which, combined with other changes, effectively transformed the vehicles into cargo vans. The CIT agreed with Ford, noting that the facts described an acceptable application of tariff engineering. The court relied heavily on tariff-engineering precedents in its narrative and, significantly, analyzed Ford’s preferred HTS heading (8703) strictly as an eo nomine provision. But the CAFC, extensively invoking Carborundum and GRK Canada (and a factually similar 1994 case, Marubeni America Corp.) in its appellate analysis, said that “use is relevant in construing ‘other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons’ in HTSUS Heading 8703 because this language suggests that classification is necessarily intertwined with whether an imported vehicle is chiefly intended to be used to transport persons.” This ultimately led the CAFC to reverse the CIT’s decision, using the Carborundum factors to conclude that the vehicles were not principally designed for transporting passengers and, therefore, were classifiable under heading 8704 as “motor vehicles for the transport of goods”. Except for one sentence in its summary of the procedural history, the CAFC never mentioned tariff engineering—what began as a case in which the practice of tariff engineering played a central role in the CIT’s decision evolved into a CAFC opinion based on a GRK Canada-influenced construction of the competing headings.


So that’s my list. The pre-HTS opinions have continued to remain relevant despite the various tariff nomenclatures in effect over the years because these opinions aren’t directly premised on interpretations of a particular nomenclature’s legal rules (e.g., the GRIs under the HTS or the General Headnotes under the TSUS). Their guidance is broadly applicable beyond the litigated nomenclature. In contrast, other opinions are explicitly focused on the construction of the rules associated with a specific nomenclature—like the focus on GRI 3(b) in Dell—such that their precedential value will end, or at least be diminished, if the language of, say, GRI 3(b) is ever substantively changed. This is why, as noted earlier, precedents that addressed “chief use” under the TSUS are now of limited value to a “principal use” analysis under HTS methodology.

Each case is easily found in various internet databases of court opinions. Both the CIT and CAFC post opinions on their websites. In some instances, a case was the subject of multiple opinions (such as Heartland or GRK Canada) as the dispute bounced back and forth between the trial and appellate courts. My case citations identify the last opinion issued by the highest court, which may or may not be the most consequential opinion in the series. If you’re inclined to read any of these twenty cases, I suggest reading each one chronologically, beginning with the initial trial opinion (and don’t forget the dissents!).

Many cases almost made my list, and hard choices had to be made regarding a few of them. Among the dozen or so cases that almost made the cut were Motorola, Inc. (2006), a decision that dealt with the “treatment previously accorded to substantially similar transactions”; Totes-Isotoner Corporation (2010), which looked at the constitutionality of gender-based tariff rates; Best Key Textiles Co., Ltd. (2013), a dispute that addressed the rules CBP must follow when publishing a notice affecting a binding classification ruling; and several cases that gave us some clarity about how “festive articles” ought to be classified.


The fun with any “best of” list is the friendly disagreement it generates. Most people may agree that Willoughby Camera belongs on the list, but many may see Aetna Explosives or Optrex America as longshots. So, because I’m genuinely curious, let’s make this an interactive exercise for all the classification professionals out there: send your nominees for the twenty most important classification opinions to michael@braumillerconsulting.com. Please include a brief summary of each case. And although there are many important non-U.S. cases, please limit your choices to U.S. court opinions. Depending on the responses I receive, I just might have enough content for a follow-up article.

Looking ahead, it’s inevitable that our courts will continue to issue influential classification opinions over the next twenty or sixty or a hundred years. But will any of them be worthy of inclusion in a 2122 top-20 list? If so, which cases will be displaced? And while we’re pondering the future, will the HS and HTSUS still be in effect in 2122?—after all, the TSUS lasted for only twenty-six years, and we’re now in the thirty-fourth year of the HTSUS. Will doctrines like essential character and principal use be replaced by new-and-improved concepts that better reflect future business practices? Will we still even need a tariff nomenclature when goods are instantly beamed around the world, making container ships and air freighters obsolete? (OK, my fondness for Star Trek forced me to write that last sentence!) Chances are good that I won’t be around in 2122 to write an updated article about my picks for the most important classification precedents—but you never know. 

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