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Flast v. Cohen

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Brief Fact Summary.

Appellants filed suit in the district court to enjoin the allegedly unconstitutional expenditure of federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The appellees, charged by Congress with administering the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, were sued in their official capacities.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

IIn ruling on standing of a taxpayer, it is necessary to look to the substantive issues for another purpose to determine whether there is a logical nexus between the status asserted and the claim sought to be adjudicated.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Thus, the implicit policies embodied in Article III, and not history alone, impose the rule against advisory opinions on federal courts.

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Facts.

The appellants complained that federal funds appropriated under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 were being used to finance instruction in reading, arithmetic, and other subjects in religious schools and to purchase textbooks and various materials for use in those schools. They alleged that such expenditures were in contravention of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Issue.

May an individual taxpayer attack the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 on the ground that it violates the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment?

Held.

Yes, the taxpayer-appellant has the standing to attack the federal statute on the ground that it violates the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, because the taxpayer has satisfied the required nexuses to support their claim of standing under the test the court had announced. The taxpayer’s constitutional challenge is made to an exercise by Congress of its power under Article I section 8 of the Constitution to spend for the general welfare, and the challenged program involves a substantial expenditure of federal tax funds.

Dissent.

Justice Harlan

Public actions such as filing a suit attacking a federal statute by an individual taxpayer may involve important hazards for the continued effectiveness of the federal judiciary. Unrestricted public actions might alter the allocation of authority among the three branches of the Government. In contrary to the majority’s opinion, there is an available resolution of the problem: individual litigants have standing to represent the public interest, despite their lack of personal interests, if Congress has appropriately authorized such suits. Adhering to this principle would diminish any hazards to the proper allocation of authority among the different branches.

Concurrence.

Justice Douglas

Most laws passed by Congress do not contain a constitutional question and instead, the political decisions, as distinguished from the justiciable ones, occupy most of the spectrum of congressional action. Under this circumstance, the less the judiciary does, the better. Judicial intrusion should be less frequent, because more participation by the judiciary will dwarf the political capacity of the people.

Discussion.

In appellant-taxpayer has met the nexus requirements. The taxpayer established a logical link between that status and the type of legislative enactment attacked. Thus, he is a proper party to allege the unconstitutionality of congressional power under the taxing and spending clause. The taxpayer also established a nexus between the status and the precise nature of the constitutional limitations imposed upon the exercise of congressional taxing and spending powers delegated to Congress by Article I, section 8. Because both nexuses were established, the appellant had shown his stake in the outcome of the controversy and shall be deemed a proper party to invoke a federal court’s jurisdiction.


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