Well, the Court handed down a marginally interesting ruling on Monday in Schriro v. Landrigan. On a 5-4 vote, the Court overruled the Ninth Circut and held that a man who had rejected any mitigating evidence in favor of him during his trial is not subject to an evidentiary hearing and federal habeus review. Justice Thomas penned a majority decision and was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito. Justice Stevens wrote a dissent that was joined by Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer. Since the ruling is especially boring (even by my standards), I think I’ll talk about a case that is coming up.
On February 28, 2007, the Court heard oral arguments in Hein v. Freedom from Religon. The Freedom from Religion organization filed suit against Jay Hein, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives for supporting religious organizations in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The District Court threw out the case based on standing, and the Ninth circuit overruled, claiming that taxpayer money need only be ‘generally appropriated’ to the Executive branch to envoke standing under Flask.
In 1923, the Court held in Frothingham v. Mellon that simply being a taxpayer concerned about future tax increases was not sufficient standing to bring suit against Congress. A woman brought suit against the federal government for the Maternity Act of 1921 which provided funding to decrease infant mortality. The Court rejected the woman’s contention that Congress had overstepped its bounds- increasing taxes and unlawfully taking her property in violation of Due Process standards. (Sidenote: The Court’s decision in Frothingham is a short, interesting read. At one point, they cite the ill-fated Chisholm v. Georgia case.) The Court developed an exception in 1968 in Flast v. Cohen that taxpayers could have standing against very specific Establishment Clause issues if they meet two criteria:
(a) Taxpayers must establish a logical link between that status and the type of legislative enactment attacked, as it will not be sufficient to allege an incidental expenditure of tax funds in the administration of an essentially regulatory statute.
(b) Taxpayers must also establish a nexus between that status and the precise nature of the constitutional infringement alleged. They must show that the statute exceeds specific constitutional limitations on 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.
A lot of the conflict in this case comes down to specific allocation of money. Hein claims that since the Executive is in question and has not directly appropriated any funds to this issue, there is no similarity to Flast and there is no controversy. Freedom from Religion claims that even the indirect allocation of money to the Executive for administrative tasks is enough to grant standing.
The petitioner argues that the respondent lacks standing because they have received no ‘direct dollars-and-cents injury.’ Flast rested on an individuals controversy over the government’s textbook-purchasing policy towards parochial school. That type of narrowly-defined controversy is justicible, but the plaintiff in this case hasn’t yet developed a very narrow scope for this case.
I’ll cover the oral arguments in this case soon, but in an unrelated sidenote, I’ve found the coolest surname ever. I was at my sister’s 7th grade band concert last night and I took a look at the flyer and there is a clarinetist with the last name of ‘Jurisprudencia.’ I’m jealous.