Flast v. Cohen Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Appellant, including Flast (Appellants), brought suit, claiming standing solely as taxpayers, seeking to enjoin expenditure of federal funds on religious schools. Appellants claimed such expenditures violated the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

Facts of the case

Florence Flast and a group of taxpayers challenged federal legislation that financed the purchase of secular textbooks for use in religious schools. Flast argued that such use of tax money violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. A district court held that the federal courts should defer when confronted with taxpayer suits directed against federal spending programs.

Question

Have the Appellants established standing to bring suit in an Article III court?

Answer

Yes. Reversed and remanded.
The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) states that standing refers to the plaintiff(s) having a personal stake in the outcome of the case. In the taxpayer context, the Supreme Court outlines two requirements to show this personal stake.
The first requirement is that the taxpayer must challenge the constitutionality only of exercises under the taxing and spending clause of the Constitution. Expenditures which are incidental to a regulatory statute or other incidental expenditures do not give rise to taxpayer standing.
The second requirement is that the moving party must allege that Congress acted beyond the scope of a particular constitutional provision. It is insufficient to allege spending beyond the powers delegated under Art. I, Section: 8 of the Constitution.

Conclusion

Since the taxpayers’ constitutional challenge was made to an exercise by Congress of its constitutional power to spend for the general welfare with respect to a program involving a substantial expenditure of federal tax funds, and since the establishment clause operated as a specific constitutional limitation upon the exercise by Congress of its taxing and spending powers, the taxpayers had standing to invoke a federal court’s jurisdiction for an adjudication on the merits. Moreover, the court also stated that there is no absolute bar in Art. III of the Constitution to suits by federal taxpayers challenging allegedly unconstitutional federal taxing and spending programs since the taxpayers may or may not have the requisite personal stake in the outcome.

  • Case Brief: 1968
  • Appellant: Flast
  • Appellee: Cohen
  • Decided by: Warren Court

Citation: 392 US 83 (1968)
Argued: Mar 12, 1968
Decided: Jun 10, 1968