April 4, 2011

Supreme Court decision on Arizona voucher program

By Supreme Court decision on Arizona voucher program

Author: Joshua Thompson

The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit today in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn.  This case involved a challenge to an Arizona statute that provides a tax break (up to $500) to individuals if they choose to donate to a school tuition organization (STO).  STOs offer scholarships to students to attend private schools (both sectarian and secular).  Parents can then apply to an STO for a voucher for their child. 

PLF filed an amicus brief arguing that this program did not violate the Establishment Clause, because money only went to religious organizations after the individual choices of parents and taxpayers.  The Surpeme Court took a different route.  While the Court agreed with PLF to the extent that it reversed the Ninth Circuit, it did not do so on Establishment Clause grounds.  Instead, the Court held the the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the Arizona statute, because they had not suffered any actionable injury.

Plaintiffs had sought to challenge the Arizona program under a narrow exception approved by the Court in Flast v. Cohen, which allowed taxpayers to challenge illegal expenditures that violate the Establishment Clause. The Ninth Circuit found that plaintiffs fell within this exception, but the Supreme Court disagreed.  Accordingly, the Court never reached the question of the whether the Arizona program violates the Establishment Clause. 

Because the program remains alive and well in Arizona, proponents of school choice can rightly call this a victory.  However, for those of us that were hoping the Supreme Court would end, once-and-for-all, these silly challenges to innovative school choice programs, the decision leaves a lot to be desired. 

More to come as I finish reading the opinion.

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