Arizona's Tuition Tax Credit Withstands Challenge
In the latest challenge to Arizona’s tuition tax credit program (Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn.pdf) taxpayers sued Arizona claiming the state’s tuition tax credit program was unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause. Under the program, one can receive a state income tax credit for contributions to school tuition organizations. School tuition organizations, in turn, use the contributions to provide scholarships to students attending private schools, including religious schools.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether the taxpayers had standing to pursue the claim. The plaintiffs claimed standing on only one ground—that they happened to be taxpayers. Under Article III of the Constitution, to get into court and have a dispute heard on the merits, a plaintiff must establish standing. Standing requires injury in fact, a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, and a conclusion that it is likely (not speculative) that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.
In a 5-4 decision of April 4, the Supreme Court held the taxpayers lacked standing to challenge the state law. The plaintiffs failed to establish they suffered any harm or injury as a result of the state’s establishment of the tuition tax credit program. Any benefit to religious schools was not the result of the government’s spending choices; rather, the benefit to religious schools was the result of the decisions of private individuals giving to school tuition organizations.
What is the take away? For the citizen, it’s all “inside baseball”—a technical discussion of the law of standing (yawn), but a decent tax benefit. For the state legislator and policymaker, it’s a step forward with tax incentives to promote school choice. For the lawyer, it’s another example of what it takes to get into court—injury in fact.