The Supreme Court rules 5 to 4 that taxpayers do not have legal
standing to challenge an Arizona tax-credit program because the
state is not directly funding the parochial schools.
The US Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed by
taxpayers in Arizona challenging a state tax credit program that
primarily benefits parochial schools.
In a 5-to-4 decision, the high court said the taxpayers lacked
the necessary legal standing to bring their lawsuit.
The action sweeps away a ruling by a federal appeals court panel
that had struck down the tax credit program as a violation of the
First Amendment's ban on government establishment of religion.
The majority justices did not directly address the larger
constitutional issue. Instead, the 19-page decision written by
Justice Anthony Kennedy focuses on whether the complaining taxpayers
had suffered a direct and personal injury from Arizona's religious
school tax credit program.
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Justice Kennedy drew a sharp distinction between government
expenditures from the general treasury that directly benefit
religion versus tax credits that provide individual citizens an
opportunity to decide for themselves whether to direct the credited
funds to a religious school.
"When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute [to the tax credit
program], they spend their own money, not money the state has
collected from respondents or from other taxpayers," Kennedy wrote.
"Arizona's [tax credit law] does not extract and spend a
conscientious dissenter's funds in service of an establishment [of
religion]," he said.
"On the contrary," Kennedy said, "respondents and other Arizona
taxpayers remain free to pay their own tax bills, without
contributing to [the religious school tax credit program]."
A narrow interpretation
The decision is important because it signals the intention of
five members of the court to enforce a narrow interpretation of when
taxpayers may be permitted to file lawsuits seeking to prove the
government is engaged in unconstitutional support for or
entanglement with religion.
In a dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the decision will make it
harder for ordinary citizens to challenge government actions that
they feel violate the First Amendment principle of government
neutrality concerning religion.
"Today's decision devastates taxpayer standing in establishment
clause cases," Justice Kagan wrote in a 24-page dissent joined by
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.
"Appropriations and tax subsidies are readily interchangeable,"
Kagan wrote. "What is a cash grant today can be a tax break
She added: "The court's opinion thus offers a road map ... to any
government that wishes to insulate its financing of religious
activity from legal challenge."
Praise for ruling
Supporters of the tax credit program praised the ruling.
"Today's decision marks the fifth time in recent years that the
Supreme Court has rebuffed efforts by school choice opponents to use
the courts to halt programs that empower families to choose a
private school education," said Tim Keller, executive director of
the Arizona Chapter of the Institute for Justice. …