Flast v. Cohen

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Flast v. Cohen
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 12, 1968
Decided June 10, 1968
Full case name Flast et al. v. Cohen, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare et al.
Citations 392 U.S. 83 (more)
88 S. Ct. 1942; 20 L. Ed. 2d 947; 1968 U.S. LEXIS 1347
Prior history Dismissed for lack of standing, 267 F. Supp. 351 (1967); probable jurisdiction noted, 389 U.S. 895 (1967)
Holding
Taxpayers have standing to sue to prevent the disbursement of federal funds in contravention of the specific constitutional prohibition against government support of religion.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Warren, joined by Black, Douglas, Stewart, Brennan, White, Marshall
Concurrence Douglas
Concurrence Stewart
Concurrence Fortas
Dissent Harlan
Laws applied
U.S. Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 8, Art. III

Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83 (1968),[1] was a United States Supreme Court case holding that a taxpayer has standing to sue the government to prevent an unconstitutional use of taxpayer funds.

In 1923 the Supreme Court decided in Frothingham v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447 (1923), that a taxpayer did not have standing to sue the federal government to prevent expenditures if her only injury is an anticipated increase in taxes. In 1968 Florance Flast joined several others in filing suit against Wilbur Cohen, the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, contending that spending funds on religious schools violated the First Amendment's ban on the establishment of religion. The district court denied standing, and the Supreme Court heard the appeal.

Majority Opinion (Chief Justice Earl Warren)[edit]

Frothingham v. Mellon did not recognize a constitutional barrier against federal taxpayer lawsuits. Rather, it denied standing because the petitioner did not allege "a breach by Congress of the specific constitutional limitations imposed upon an exercise of the taxing and spending power." Because the purpose of standing is to avoid burdening the court with situations in which there is no real controversy, standing is used to ensure that the parties in the suit are properly adversarial, "not whether the issue itself is justiciable."

In Flast, Warren established a "double nexus" test which a taxpayer must satisfy in order to have standing. First, he must "establish a logical link between [taxpayer] status and the type of legislative enactment attacked." Second, "show that the challenged enactment exceeds specific constitutional limitations upon the exercise of the taxing and spending power and NOT simply that the enactment is generally beyond the powers delegated to Congress by Article I, Section 8." Only when both nexuses have been satisfied may the petitioner have standing to sue.

Flast Test[edit]

The Court developed a two-part test to determine whether the plaintiffs had standing to sue. First, because a taxpayer alleges injury only by virtue of his liability for taxes, the Court held that "a taxpayer will be a proper party to allege the unconstitutionality only of exercises of congressional power under the taxing and spending clause of Art. I, § 8, of the Constitution." *479 Id., at 102, 88 S.Ct., at 1954. Second, the Court required the taxpayer to "show that the challenged enactment exceeds specific constitutional limitations upon the exercise of the taxing and spending power and not simply that the enactment is generally beyond the powers delegated to Congress by Art. I, § 8." Id., at 102-103, 88 S.Ct., at 1954."

Ruling[edit]

The Court ruled that petitioners had satisfied both nexuses, as their Constitutional challenge to the law was under Article I, Section 8, to spend for the general welfare as the expenditure is of a large three sum of funds. However, the Court expressed "no view at all on the merits of appellants' claims in this case."

Concurring Opinion (William O. Douglas)[edit]

Justice Douglas advocated dealing with the seeming contradiction by overturning Frothingham completely.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 392 U.S. 83 (Full text of the decision courtesy of Findlaw.com)

Further reading[edit]

  • Bogen, David S. (1978). "Standing up for Flast: Taxpayer and Citizen Standing to Raise Constitutional Issues". Kentucky Law Journal 67: 147. 
  • Davis, Kenneth Culp (1970). "The Liberalized Law of Standing". University of Chicago Law Review 37 (3): 450–473. JSTOR 1599038. 

External links[edit]