Allen v. Wright

LOCATION: Briarcrest Christian Academy

DOCKET NO.: 81-757
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 468 US 737 (1984)
ARGUED: Feb 29, 1984
DECIDED: Jul 03, 1984

Robert H. Kapp - Argued the cause for the respondents
Rex E. Lee - Argued the cause for the petitioners in No. 81-970
William J. Landers, II - Argued the cause for the petitioner in No. 81-757

Facts of the case

In an effort to curb racially discriminatory practices in private schools, the Internal Revenue Code denies tax-exempt status to schools which promote such practices. The Code also prohibits individuals from making tax-deductible donations to private schools which racially discriminate. Inez Wright and others filed a nationwide class action suit arguing that the IRS had not fulfilled its obligations in enforcing these provisions of the Code, and thus, that government was subsidizing and encouraging the expansion of segregated education in private schools. This case was decided together with Reagan v. Wright.


Did the IRS shirk its enforcement duties and encourage private schools to racially discriminate, thus, harming desegregation efforts in the nation's public schools?

Media for Allen v. Wright

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 29, 1984 in Allen v. Wright

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Allen against Wright and the consolidated case.

Mr. Solicitor General.

Rex E. Lee:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

This lawsuit was brought as a class action by parents of black students attending desegregating public publics in seven states and seeking to represent a nationwide class of several million parents similarly situated.

The relief that they seek is not desegregation of a public school nor admission of any child to any school, public or private.

Rather, they seek an order that the Internal Revenue Service change its standards for determining the tax exempt status of private schools which their children neither attend nor seek to attend located in or serving desegregating public school districts.

The Plaintiffs lack standing to bring this action.

They lack standing for two separate reasons, each of which is independently dispositive and each of which is squarely based on a holding by this Court.

I will discuss each of those two holdings separately, and the first is Valley Forge Christian College versus Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Valley Forge makes clear that without exception, even in establishment clause cases, there is no standing to sue for the purpose of assuring that the Federal Government faithfully observe a particular plaintiff's view of the requirements of a particular provision of the Constitution.

The constitutionally irreduceable minimum requirement of injury in fact must be an injury that is more narrow in scope than breach of the interest shared by all citizens in assuring that Government steer clear of any particular kind of governmental conduct, such as giving financial aid to a church or to a discriminating school or violates the ineligibility clause or the accounts clause or the incompatibility clause.

If any exception to that general principle, which reaches all the way back for 60 years to Frothingham versus Mellon, were to be acknowledged, the strongest possible case for an exception existed in Valley Forge itself, because, as stressed by the dissents in that case, one of the central functions of the establishment clause is to prevent precisely what the plaintiffs were alleging in Valley Forge, namely direct governmental aid to religion.

The Court very correctly ruled that there is no exception, even for establishment clause cases, and thereby established that Article III has independent constitutional significance of its own and the standing issue is to be considered prior to and independent of any other constitutional issue whose substance the plaintiffs seek to vindicate.

The other case whose holding also squarely controls, though for quite different reasons, is Simon versus Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Organization, whose facts are remarkably similar to the facts of this case.

Simon held that indigent persons and organizations lack standing to challenge the tax exempt status of hospitals which refused fully to service the indigent, and the reason that they lacked standing was because one could only speculate whether the relief that they sought, namely the revocation of the exemptions, would in fact cure the injury on which their standing was based, namely the unavailability of hospital services.

The identical defect exists in this case, as even the Court of Appeals recognized.

The Court of Appeals, however, distinguished Simon from this case on the ground that school desegregation cases in that court's view call for a different, more relaxed set of standing requirements.

The court concluded that three of this Court's desegregation decisions, Norwood, Gilmore and Green, were in tension with Simon and that the court was therefore forced to select from two divergent lines of Supreme Court decisions.

In fact, I submit there is no divergence at all and Simon squarely governs for two reasons.

The first is that the notion that for purposes of determining standing there is any difference between school desegregation cases on the one hand and hospital discrimination cases on the other, that the weight of the Article III burden somehow shifts, diminishes or increases according to the nature or importance of the substantive claim was squarely rejected by this Court and expressly rejected by this Court in Valley Forge, which came down after the Court of Appeals' decision in this case.

Second, even considered in isolation, the decisions in Norwood, Gilmore and Green do not establish any doctrinal enclave for standing a desegregation cases.

Indeed, in our view they establish very few standing principles at all because, as Judge Tamm pointed out in dissent, they were not standing cases.

The defendants in Norwood and Gilmore were the State of Mississippi and the City of Montgomery, the precise governmental bodies that had discriminated against these claimants in prior precise desegregation suits because of the race of those plaintiffs, Norwood, Gilmore, and their colleagues.

Having in both cases been parties to specific desegregation decrees, the plaintiffs in Norwood and Gilmore brought suit directly against those who had discriminated against them and, as the Court observed in Gilmore, the relief that they sought was directly related to the concrete injury they suffered.

Here, by contrast, the suit is against the revenue collector and not against the discriminator.

With regard to the summary affirmance in Green, the standing issue was not squarely presented.

This Court's ruling was only a summary affirmance, and this Court later observed that because the Government and the plaintiffs in that case were in agreement, the Court's affirmance in Green lacks the precedential weight of a case involving a truly adversary controversy.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, I suppose, however, the Court had to assume standing existed to have entered the order it did.

So it's much harder to explain, I think.

Rex E. Lee:

It is correct, Justice O'Connor, that any court necessarily holds that there is standing in any decision where it renders a substantive decision on the merits.