Saturday, April 9, 2011

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Ten

Gregory Forfa and Kyle Gillen are the winners this week for stories about the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in American Christian Student Tuition Organization v. Winn. As the New York Times reports, the Court upheld an

Arizona program [that] gives taxpayers there a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit of up to $500 for donations to private “student tuition organizations.” The organizations are permitted to limit the scholarships they offer to schools of a given religion, and many of them do.

The usual rule is that plaintiffs who merely object to how the government spends their taxes do not have standing because they have not suffered a sufficiently direct injury. But the Supreme Court made an exception for religious spending by the government in 1968 in Flast v. Cohen.

The issue that divided the majority and the dissenters on Monday was whether granting a tax credit was the functional equivalent of collecting and spending tax money. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the two things were very different.

“Awarding some citizens a tax credit allows other citizens to retain control over their own funds in accordance with their own consciences,” Justice Kennedy wrote for himself, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

* * * * *

In her dissent * * * , Justice Kagan said the majority’s position was an elevation of form over substance. “Taxpayers experience the same injury for standing purposes,” she wrote, “whether government subsidization of religion takes the form of a cash grant or a tax measure.”

In this way, Kagan argued,
the majority had laid waste to the doctrine of “taxpayer standing” * * * “The court’s opinion,” Justice Kagan wrote, “offers a road map — more truly, just a one-step instruction — to any government that wishes to insulate its financing of religious activity from legal challenge.”
The Court's opinion may be found here. The decision is interesting both because of the particular kind of legislation that it upholds and because it is a striking instance of the Court using the doctrine of standing to avoid the need to decide a constitutional issue. In this way, the standing doctrine resembles the canon of constitutional avoidance that we discussed on Tuesday.

Congratulations to Gregory and Kyle. The next contest deadline is Friday, April 15, at 9 a.m.

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