Tuesday, June 26, 2007

SCOTUS holds there is no taxpayer standing under Establishment Clause to challenge executive branch actions

In Hein v. Freedom From Religion, SCOTUS considered whether a taxpayer has standing to sue under the Establishment Clause for alleged Executive Branch violations. The President, by executive orders, created a White House office and several centers within federal agencies to ensure that faith-based community groups are eligible to compete for federal financial support. Congress never authorized these entities. The directors of these federal agencies were sued under the Establishment Clause.

In a splintered decision, the Court held there was no standing. The Court narrowly read Flast v. Cohen, 392 U. S. 83 (1968), in which it recognized an exception to the general rule against federal taxpayer standing. Under Flast, a plaintiff asserting an Establishment Clause claim has standing to challenge a law authorizing the use of federal funds in a way that allegedly violates the Establishment Clause. Because Congress did not specifically authorize the use of federal funds to pay for the conferences or speeches--they were paid for out of general Executive Branch appropriations--Flast did not confer standing.

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