Law School Case Brief
Hein v. Freedom from Religion Found., Inc. - 551 U.S. 587, 127 S. Ct. 2553 (2007)
One of the controlling elements in the definition of a case or controversy under U.S. Const. art. III is standing. The requisite elements of U.S. Const. art. III standing are well established: A plaintiff must allege personal injury fairly traceable to the defendant's allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed by the requested relief.
The President, by executive orders, created a White House office and several centers within federal agencies to ensure that faith-based community groups were eligible to compete for federal financial support. No congressional legislation specifically authorized these entities, which were created entirely within the Executive Branch, nor had Congress enacted any law specifically appropriating money to their activities, which were funded through general Executive Branch appropriations. Respondents, Freedom from Religion Found, Inc. and three of its members, filed suit against Jay Hein and other directors of the federal offices, for violating the Establishment Clause by organizing conferences that were designed to promote, and had the effect of promoting, religious community groups over secular ones. The only asserted basis for standing was that the individual respondents were federal taxpayers opposed to Executive Branch use of congressional appropriations for these conferences. The District Court dismissed the claims for lack of standing, concluding that federal taxpayer standing is only limited to Establishment Clause challenges to the constitutionality of exercises of congressional power under the taxing and spending clause of Art. I, § 8. Because petitioners acted on the President's behalf and were not charged with administering a congressional program, the District Court held that the challenged activities did not authorize taxpayer standing. The Seventh Circuit reversed, granting the federal taxpayers standing to challenge Executive Branch programs on Establishment Clause grounds so long as the activities were financed by a congressional appropriation, even though there was no statutory program and the funds were from appropriations for general administrative expenses. According to the Court of Appeals, a taxpayer has standing to challenge anything done by a federal agency so long as the marginal or incremental cost to the public of the alleged Establishment Clause violation is greater than zero. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.
Did Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. and other respondents have standing?
The Court held that respondents lacked standing under U.S. Const. art. III. A plurality of the Court found that the exception on taxpayer standing applied only to challenges directed at exercises of congressional power under the Taxing and Spending Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, and did not apply to respondents' challenge to the use of funds that were appropriated for the general discretionary use of the Executive Branch. The challenged expenditures were not expressly authorized or mandated by any specific congressional enactment. As a result, the action lacked a logical nexus between taxpayer status and the type of legislative enactment attacked.
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