Karcher v. May

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Karcher v. May
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 6, 1987
Decided December 1, 1987
Full case name Karcher, Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly, et al. v. May et al
Docket nos. 85-1551
Citations 484 U.S. 72 (more)
108 S.Ct. 388, 98 L.Ed.2d 327
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority O'Connor, joined by Rehnquist, Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, Scalia
Concurrence White
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. III, Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 43(c)(1)

Karcher v. May, 484 U.S. 72 (1987),[1] was a school prayer case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the former presiding officers of the New Jersey legislature did not have Article III standing to appeal a case, that standing had passed on to their legislative successors.


In 1982, the New Jersey Legislature passed a statute over the governor's veto providing for a moment of silence in public schools, which failed to specifically mention prayer. May filed a lawsuit in the federal United States District Court for the District of New Jersey challenging the constitutionality of the statute; the executive-branch officials normally tasked with defending such suits (the Governor and the Attorney General) admitted the unconstitutionality of the statute and refused to defend it in court. Consequently, Alan Karcher, Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly, and Carmen Orechio, President of the New Jersey Senate, moved to intervene (under Rule 24 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure) as defendants on behalf of the Legislature; the court granted the motion. In 1983, the District Court found that the purpose of the statute was religious, and deemed the law unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds.[2][3]

Karcher and Orechio appealed, although by the time of filing their terms as Speaker and President had expired; their successors, Chuck Hardwick and John F. Russo, joined the executive officers in refusing to defend the constitutionality of the statute. Karcher and Orechio's lawyer, Rex E. Lee, nevertheless contended that their standing to continue to defend suit on the state's behalf remained, and also argued the purpose of the law was secular.[4][5]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The court found that the former legislative leaders lacked standing,[6] but that that authority had passed by design to the current leaders of the New Jersey legislature.[7] Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's majority decision was joined by six other justices, with Justice Byron White writing a concurring opinion. There was no ninth vote, as Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. had resigned earlier in the year, and no replacement had yet been confirmed.

As a result of this opinion, the district court ruling that the law was unconstitutional was left intact.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] Full text of the opinion courtesy of Justia.com.
  2. ^ a b Kamen, Al (December 2, 1987). "Ruling on `Moment of Silence' Avoided; Court Also Curtails Environmental Suits Under Clean Water Act". The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  3. ^ Kamen, Al (October 7, 1987). "Court Hears Suit Over Schools' Moment of Silence; Questions Suggest a Definitive Ruling Is Unlikely on New Jersey Law's Constitutionality". The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Andrea Neal (1987-10-01). School Prayer. American Bar Association Journal. pp. 50–. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  5. ^ Vile, John R. (2001). Great American Lawyers: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 457–. ISBN 9781576072028. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  6. ^ Mirga, Tom (December 9, 1987). "Technicality Bars Ruling On Moments of Silence". Education Week. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  7. ^ Schwartz (1995-12-31). Section 1983 Lit: Clms V1b 3e. Aspen Publishers Online. pp. 178–. ISBN 9780735549357. Retrieved 20 December 2012.