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Home / Opinion / 09-987 & 09-991 Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn

09-987 & 09-991 Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn

United States Supreme Court
Constitutional Law
Establishment Clause; standing

Taxpayers lack standing to challenge a tax credit for parochial schools.

Respondents’ suit does not fall within the narrow exception to the rule against taxpayer standing established in Flast v. Cohen, supra. There, federal taxpayers had standing to mount an Establishment Clause challenge to a federal statute providing General Treasury funds to support, inter alia, textbook purchases for religious schools.

To have standing under Flast, taxpayers must show (1) a “logical link” between the plaintiffís taxpayer status “and the type of legislative enactment attacked,” and (2) “a nexus” between such taxpayer status and “the precise nature of the constitutional infringement alleged.” 392 U. S., at 102.

Considering the two requirements together, Flast explained that individuals suffer a particular injury when, in violation of the Establishment Clause and by means of “the taxing and spending power,” their property is transferred through the Government’s Treasury to a sectarian entity. Id., at 105-106. “The taxpayer’s allegation in such cases would be that his tax money is being extracted and spent in violation of specific constitutional protections against such abuses of legislative power.” Id., at 106.

The STO tax credit does not visit the injury identified in Flast. When the Government spends funds from the General Treasury, dissenting taxpayers know that they have been made to contribute to an establishment in violation of conscience. In contrast, a tax credit allows dissenting taxpayers to use their own funds in accordance with their own consciences. Here, the STO tax credit does not “extrac[t] and spen[d]” a conscientious dissenter’s funds in service of an establishment, 392 U. S., at 106, or “‘force a citizen to contribute'” to a sectarian organization, id., at 103.

Rather, taxpayers are free to pay their own tax bills without contributing to an STO, to contribute to a religious or secular STO of their choice, or to contribute to other charitable organizations. Because the STO tax credit is not tantamount to a religious tax, respondents have not alleged an injury for standing purposes.

Furthermore, respondents cannot satisfy the requirements of causation and redressability. When the government collects and spends taxpayer money, governmental choices are responsible for the transfer of wealth; the resulting subsidy of religious activity is, under Flast, traceable to the government’s expenditures; and an injunction against those expenditures would address taxpayer-plaintiffs’ objections of conscience.

Here, by contrast, contributions result from the decisions of private taxpayers regarding their own funds.

Private citizens create private STOs; STOs choose beneficiary schools; and taxpayers then contribute to STOs. Any injury the objectors may suffer are not fairly traceable to the government. And, while an injunction most likely would reduce contributions to STOs, that remedy would not affect noncontributing taxpayers or their tax payments.

562 F. 3d 1002, reversed.
09-987 & 09-991 Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn
Kennedy, J.; Scalia, J., concurring; Kagan, J., dissenting.

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