Mueller v. Allen

LOCATION:Minnesota State Legislature

DOCKET NO.: 82-195
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 463 US 388 (1983)
ARGUED: Apr 18, 1983
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1983

Douglas C. Blomgren – Argued the cause for the respondents
William I. Kampf – Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

A Minnesota law allowed taxpayers to deduct from their state income tax expenses incurred in providing tuition, textbooks, and transportation for their children’s elementary or secondary school education. Parents who sent their children to parochial school also qualified for the deductions.


Did the law violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

Media for Mueller v. Allen

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 18, 1983 in Mueller v. Allen

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 29, 1983 in Mueller v. Allen

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and the opinion of the Court in Mueller against Allen will be announced by Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

This case involves the claim that a state tax deduction violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which prohibits any law respecting the establishment of a religion.

Thirty five years ago, this Court faced the question of whether a New Jersey locality could provide school transportation to children attending parochial schools and it is decided by a narrowly divided court that it could.

And since that time, the question has recurred time and again.

The arguments in the legislatures that the parochial school people make are that the parochial schools do a substantial job of educating a large number of students that the parents of parochial students paid taxes which support the public schools and they pay an addition tuition to go — for their kids to go to the parochial schools.

And so, they have claimed that they were equitably entitled to some sort of tax benefit as a result of this double payment on their part.

The arguments and opposition in the legislatures have been that the public schools are open to everybody, that it’s a perfectly voluntary choice that the parochial school parents make to send their children to school and that the public treasury shouldn’t underwrite that sort of thing.

Well, in addition, the claim has been raised by those who oppose any sort of aid to a parochial schools, that a state law which gives some sort of benefit like this violates the First Amendment and its Establishment Clause.

Today, we consider a claim asserted in that manner against a Minnesota statute which permits taxpayers to deduct part of the cost of educating their children from their taxable income. Among its expenses that may be deducted are the cost of tuition, the cost of transportation to schools, textbooks, and other incidental items.

A group of Minnesota taxpayers filed suit in federal court arguing that the statute was unconstitutional.

They claimed that although the statute in theory applied to a broad range of people, its principal beneficiaries would be parents of children attending parochial schools who were able to deduct the cost of tuition, books, and transportation.

They relied principally on our decision in a case called Nyquist decided 10 years ago.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected this claim and held that the Minnesota plan conformed to the Constitution.

Like the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, we are unpersuaded by petitioner’s reliance on Nyquist.

Although that case involved a state law similar in a number of respects to that in that in this case, we have concluded that the decision, that the opinion differs from this case in a number of important ways.

The Minnesota law, unlike the law in Nyquist benefits a very broad class of citizens.

It is part of a genuine tax system and thus is entitled to a substantial deference from the courts.

For these reasons, as well as others set out tin the opinion for the Court, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and hold that Minnesota’s law does not violate the Establishment Clause.

Justice Marshall has filed a dissenting opinion which he is joined by Justice Brennan, Justice Blackmun and Justice Stevens.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Justice Rehnquist.