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Victory for School Choice: Supreme Court rejects ACLU challenge to Arizona's tuition tax credit plan

By Jordan Lorence posted on:
October 17, 2017

In a significant victory for school choice, the Supreme Court today dismissed the lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging Arizona's tuition tax credit program, which gave a tax break to those who contribute for private scholarships for students attending private schools, including religious ones. The Supreme Court ruled that the ACLU's taxpayers lacked standing to come to federal court and challenge the plan as violating the Establishment Clause because the tax credit program inflicted no harm on the taxpayers. You can read the Supreme Court's decision in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn here.

     The Alliance Defense Fund represented the private organization in Arizona that the case is named after, the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization.  ACSTO distributes scholarship funds to various Christian schools in Arizona.  ACSTO intervened in the lawsuit after the ACLU sued the State of Arizona. David Cortman, who led ADF's defense of the Arizona plan, writes about the victory here.

     Today's decision significantly limits the ability of extreme separationist groups like the ACLU to challenge school choice programs, because they must now find people actually harmed by a state's or city's school choice plan, and not rely on objectors who merely pay taxes in the state. and have only generalized objections to the program.   The Supreme Court ruled that the government does not spend government funds on a tuition tax credit program.  The donations are made by the private choices of individual people, using their own money, the Supreme Court ruled. Taxpayers are not harmed by private individuals deciding how to donate their own money.

     This significant ruling may encourage other states to pass their own Arizona-like school choice programs because it will now be more difficult for groups like the ACLU to mount attacks against the programs.  This is good news for parents with children in substandard school looking for educational alternatives.

     Special shout outs go to David Cortman and Jeremy Tedesco who worked so hard on this case. Way to go David and Jeremy!  We went to law school dreaming of days like today. 

       Also, special praise goes to Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal of the Obama Administration for his principled and eloquent defense of Arizona's system, and his strong agreement with ADF that ACLU taxpayers lacked standing. Way to go, Neal!

      My favorite line from Justice Kennedy's majority opinion: "Private bank accounts cannot be equated with the Arizona State Treasury."

   For more information about the case, please go to the ADF Media page on the case here.


Jordan Lorence

Jordan Lorence

Senior Counsel, Director of Strategic Engagement

Jordan Lorence serves as senior counsel and director of strategic engagement with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he plays a key role with the Strategic Relations & Training Team.


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