Supreme Court rules challengers to Arizona tax credit lack standing

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 Monday in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that respondents lacked standing to bring suit regarding the constitutionality of an Arizona tax credit. The tax credit [Ariz Rev Stat Ann § 43-1089 text] applies to donations given to organizations that provide scholarships at private schools, many of which have religious affiliations. The taxpayers who brought suit argued that the tax credit program violates the Establishment Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] because it unconstitutionally endorses or advances religion by incentivizing individuals to direct more contributions to religious organizations. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the taxpayers had standing to challenge the constitutionality of the law and allowed the claim to proceed. In an opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court determined that respondents lacked standing based on its decision in Flast v. Cohen [opinion text] because they were challenging a tax credit as opposed to a governmental expenditure. Kennedy also emphasized the importance of the concept of standing:

In an era of frequent litigation, class actions, sweeping injunctions with prospective effect, and continuing jurisdiction to enforce judicial remedies, courts must be more careful to insist on the formal rules of standing, not less so. Making the Article III standing inquiry all the more necessary are the significant implications of constitutional litigation, which can result in rules of wide applicability that are beyond Congress' power to change. The present suit serves as an illustration of these principles.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a concurring opinion in which Justice Clarence Thomas joined that referred to Flast as "an anomaly" and stated that the majority opinion did not need to consider the case and should have denied standing based on pure Constitutional grounds. Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent in which she was joined by three other justices that criticized the majority for creating a distinction between tax credits and government expenditures and stated that the law still financed religious activity.

Before the tax credit law went into effect, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in Kotterman v. Killian [opinion, PDF] that, based on the construction of the statute, it did not on its face violate the Establishment Clause or provisions of the Arizona state constitution. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled In Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation [opinion text] that taxpayers do not have standing [JURIST report] to challenge executive branch actions under the Establishment Clause. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFR) filed a lawsuit over the use of government funds to promote then-president Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

 

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