Supreme Court reverses Arizona tax credit injunction

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jg
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Supreme Court reverses Arizona tax credit injunction

Postby jg » Sun Apr 10, 2011 12:43 am

United States Supreme Court, 04/04/2011
Arizona Christian School Tuition Org. v. Winn, No. 09–987
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/g ... vol=09-987

Selective quotes:
The present action was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. It named the Director of the Arizona Department of Revenue as defendant. The Arizona taxpayers who brought the suit claimed that §43-1089 violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, as incorporated against the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. Respondents alleged that §43-1089 allows STOs "to use State income-tax revenues to pay tuition for students at religious schools," some of which "discriminate on the basis of religion in selecting students." Complaint in No. 00-0287 (D Ariz.), ¶¶29-31, App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 09-987, pp. 125a-126a. Respondents requested, among other forms of relief, an injunction against the issuance of §43-1089 tax credits for contributions to religious STOs. The District Court dismissed respondents' suit as jurisdictionally barred by the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U. S. C. §1341. The Court of Appeals reversed. This Court agreed with the Court of
Appeals and affirmed. Hibbs v. Winn, 542 U. S. 88 (2004).

On remand, the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization and other interested parties intervened. The District Court once more dismissed respondents' suit, this time for failure to state a claim. Once again, the Court of Appeals reversed. It held that respondents had standing under Flast v. Cohen, supra. 562 F. 3d 1002 (CA9 2009). Reaching the merits, the Court of Appeals ruled that respondents had stated a claim that §43-1089 violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The full Court of Appeals denied en banc review, with eight judges dissenting. 586 F. 3d 649 (CA9 2009). This Court granted certiorari. 560 U. S. __ (2010).


Respondents suggest that their status as Arizona taxpayers provides them with standing to challenge the STO tax credit. Absent special circumstances, however, standing cannot be based on a plaintiff's mere status as a taxpayer. This Court has rejected the general proposition that an individual who has paid taxes has a "continuing, legally cognizable interest in ensuring that those funds are not used by the Government in a way that violates the Constitution." Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., 551 U. S. 587, 599 (2007) (plurality opinion). This precept has been referred to as the rule against taxpayer standing.


It is easy to see that tax credits and governmental expenditures can have similar economic consequences, at least for beneficiaries whose tax liability is sufficiently large to take full advantage of the credit. Yet tax credits and governmental expenditures do not both implicate individual taxpayers in sectarian activities. A dissenter whose tax dollars are "extracted and spent" knows that he has in some small measure been made to contribute to an establishment in violation of conscience. Flast, supra, at 106. In that instance the taxpayer's direct and particular connection with the establishment does not depend on economic speculation or political conjecture. The connection would exist even if the conscientious dissenter's tax liability were unaffected or reduced. See DaimlerChrysler, supra, at 348-349. When the government declines to impose a tax, by contrast, there is no such connection between dissenting taxpayer and alleged establishment. Any financial injury remains speculative. See supra, at 6-10. And awarding some citizens a tax credit allows other citizens to retain control over their own funds in accordance with their own consciences.

The distinction between governmental expenditures and tax credits refutes respondents' assertion of standing. When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute to STOs, they spend their own money, not money the State has collected from respondents or from other taxpayers. Arizona's §43-1089 does not "extrac[t] and spen[d]" a conscientious dissenter's funds in service of an establishment, Flast, 392 U. S., at 106, or " 'force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property' " to a sectarian organization, id., at 103 (quoting 2 Writings of James Madison, supra, at 186). On the contrary, respondents and other Arizona taxpayers remain free to pay their own tax bills, without contributing to an STO. Respondents are likewise able to contribute to an STO of their choice, either religious or secular. And respondents also have the option of contributing to other charitable organizations, in which case respondents may become eligible for a tax deduction or a different tax credit. See, e.g., Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §43-1088 (West Supp. 2010). The STO tax credit is not tantamount to a religious tax or to a tithe and does not visit the injury identified in Flast. It follows that respondents have neither alleged an injury for standing purposes under general rules nor met the Flast exception. Finding standing under these circumstances would be more than the extension of Flast "to the limits of its logic." Hein, 551 U. S., at 615 (plurality opinion). It would be a departure from Flast's stated rationale.


The present suit serves as an illustration of these principles. The fact that respondents are state taxpayers does not give them standing to challenge the subsidies that §43-1089 allegedly provides to religious STOs. To alter the rules of standing or weaken their requisite elements would be inconsistent with the case-or-controversy limitation on federal jurisdiction imposed by Article III.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.
“Where there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.” — Plato

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