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Flast v. Cohen

    Citation. 392 U.S. 83, 88 S. Ct. 1942, 20 L. Ed. 2d 947, 1968 U.S.

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellant, including Flast (Appellants), brought suit, claiming standing solely as taxpayers, seeking to enjoin expenditure of federal funds on religious schools. Appellants claimed such expenditures violated the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Taxpayer standing is appropriate when the plaintiff challenges an enactment under the taxing and spending clause of the Constitution and the enactment exceeds specific constitutional limitations on taxing and spending.


    Facts. Congress had funded, under Titles I and II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (the Act), writing, arithmetic, and other subjects in religious schools. Appellants brought suit, claiming that these expenditures violated the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment of the Constitution. The only claim to standing provided was that all Appellants were taxpayers.

    Issue. Have the Appellants established standing to bring suit in an Article III court?

    Held. Yes. Reversed and remanded.
    The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) states that standing refers to the plaintiff(s) having a “personal stake in the outcome” of the case. In the taxpayer context, the Supreme Court outlines two requirements to show this personal stake.
    The first requirement is that the taxpayer must challenge the constitutionality only of exercises under the taxing and spending clause of the Constitution. Expenditures which are incidental to a regulatory statute or other incidental expenditures do not give rise to taxpayer standing.
    The second requirement is that the moving party must allege that Congress acted beyond the scope of a particular constitutional provision. It is insufficient to allege spending beyond the powers delegated under Art. I, Section: 8 of the Constitution.

    Dissent. Justice John Marshall Harlan (J. Harlan) argues that the two requirements outlined by the majority do not establish that P has a personal stake in the outcome.

    Discussion. The Supreme Court establishes a two-prong test that allows taxpayer standing without opening the federal courts to generalized grievances.

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