Supreme Court dismisses case challenging school choice groups

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In a decision school choice advocates are cheering, the Supreme Court dismissed an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against an Arizona school program, which allows residents to get a tax break for donations to organizations that grant scholarships to private schools.

Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the 5-4 majority opinion for the Court, saying that the ACLU and its clients did not have standing to challenge the private donations of others.

“When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute to STOs [school tuition organization], they spend their own money, not money the State has collected from respondents or from other taxpayers,” Kennedy wrote. “[R]espondents and other Arizona taxpayers remain free to pay their own tax bills, without contributing to an STO. Respondents are likewise able to contribute to an STO of their choice, either reli­gious or secular… Respondents’ contrary position assumes that income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands. That premise finds no basis in standing jurisprudence.”

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) was thrilled to hear the decision.

“Parents should be able to choose what’s best for their own children. This ruling empowers parents to do just that,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “Parents should decide what schools their children attend and where their money goes. The ACLU failed in its attempt to eliminate school choice for hundreds of thousands of students nationwide and also failed to demonstrate that it had any constitutional basis for its clients to file suit in the first place.”

The ACLU predictably took issue with the Court’s ruling.

“The majority decision relies on a distinction between tax credits and direct government spending,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “In fact, they are merely two sides of the same coin, as both politicians and economists have long understood.”

School choice advocates hope that this case will set a precedent to shield school tuition organizations from future litigation.

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