Roemer v. Board of Public Works of Maryland

PETITIONER: John C. Roemer, III, et al.
RESPONDENT: Board of Public Works of Maryland et al.
LOCATION: Board of Public Works of Maryland

DOCKET NO.: 74-730
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Federal district court

CITATION: 426 US 736 (1976)
ARGUED: Feb 23, 1976
DECIDED: Jun 21, 1976
GRANTED: Feb 18, 1975

George A. Nilson - for appellees
Lawrence S. Greenwald - for appellants
Paul R. Connolly - for appellees

Facts of the case

A 1971 statute enacted in Maryland authorized the payment of state funds to any private higher education institute that met a set of minimum criteria and refrained from awarding “only seminarian or theological degrees.” The grants were noncategorical, but they could not be used for sectarian purposes, as per a 1972 provision. At the end of every fiscal year, the institution that received the aid must report all financial transactions and identify the nonsectarian expenditures within those transactions.

Four Maryland taxpayers sued to challenge the constitutionality of the statute and argued that the statute benefited certain church-affiliated institutions that are constitutionally ineligible for this form of aid under the First Amendment. The district court applied the three-part test from Lemon v. Kurtzman ― which asks whether the state aid has a secular purpose, a primary effect other than the advancement of religion, and doesn’t excessively entangle the state in church affairs ― and determined that the statute was constitutional.


Did a 1971 statute that allocated Maryland taxpayer money to private religiously-affiliated schools for “nonsectarian” purposes violate the First Amendment?

Media for Roemer v. Board of Public Works of Maryland

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 23, 1976 in Roemer v. Board of Public Works of Maryland

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 21, 1976 in Roemer v. Board of Public Works of Maryland

Warren E. Burger:

The disposition of number 74-730, Roemer against the Board of Public Works of Maryland, will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

This case comes to us from a Three Judge Federal District Court for the District of Maryland, and we are asked once against to police the constitutional boundary between Church and State.

In a situation where a state by legislation seeks to provide financial assistance to education of institutions, including those that are affiliated with religious denominations.

This time it is the State of Maryland, that is endeavor to afford relief and it seeks to benefit private colleges not secondary or elementary school.

The statute in question calls for annual fiscal year grounds that are subject to the requirement that they not be used for "sectarian purposes".

The statute requires that the institution be accredited by the State Department of Education, that it shall have been established in Maryland before July 1970, that had maintained one or more "Associate of Arts or Baccalaureate degree" programs, and that it refrain from awarding "only seminarian or theological degrees.

Funding amounts to about 15% of the state's per-full-time-pupil appropriation for a student in the state college system.

The statute was amended in 1972, to provide flatly that none of the money shall be utilized by the benefit against institutions for sectarian purposes."

The administration of the program is entrusted to the Maryland Board of Public Works assisted by the Maryland Council for Higher Education.

And during each of the challenge years in question 1971 and 1972, something less than $2 million was dispersed to about 17 or 18 institutions.

And others amount about a half million was year marked to go to the Church related institutions.

The plaintiffs in this suit who are appellants here are four Maryland tax payers.

They sought a declaration of the statue in validity and injunctive relief.

And they claim that five institutions were constitutionally ineligible for the state aid.

Western Maryland college of Methodist affiliate, and Four Roman Catholic affiliates, the College of Notre Dame, Mount Saint Mary's College, Saint Joseph College, and Loyola College.

Western Maryland, however has since been dismissed as a defendant appellee in the litigation.

The District Court by divided vote ruled that the amended statute was constitutional, and that injunctive relief was not in order.

This appeal followed and we noted probable jurisdiction.

We affirm the judgment of the District Court.

The members of this Court are not uniform in their views as is often the case in recent litigation in this area.

I have filed an opinion that is joined by the Chief Justice and by Mr. Justice Powell.

And in that opinion we endeavor to trace the recent pertinent decisions and we conclude that under those decisions and the standards they set forth, the Maryland statute and system does past constitutional muster.

Mr. Justice White has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment and he is joined in that opinion by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion.

He would reverse the judgment of the District Court would enjoin the Board of Public Works from implementing the Maryland Act.

And would require the appellee institutions to refund all payments made to them under the act.

Mr. Justice Marshall joins the opinion of Mr. Justice Brennan.

Mr. Justice Stewart has filed a separate opinion dissenting from the judgment.

Mr Justice Stevens has also filed a separate dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Blackmun.