418 U.S. 166 (1974), 72-885, United States v. Richardson

Docket Nº:No. 72-885
Citation:418 U.S. 166, 94 S.Ct. 2940, 41 L.Ed.2d 678
Party Name:United States v. Richardson
Case Date:June 25, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court

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418 U.S. 166 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 2940, 41 L.Ed.2d 678

United States



No. 72-885

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1974

Argued October 10, 1973




Respondent, as a federal taxpayer, brought this suit for the purpose of obtaining a declaration of unconstitutionality of the Central Intelligence Agency Act, which permits the CIA to account for its expenditures "solely on the certificate of the Director. . . ." 50 U.S.C. § 403j(b). The complaint alleged that the Act violated Art. I, § 9, cl. 7, of the Constitution insofar as that clause requires a regular statement and account of public funds. The District Court's dismissal of the complaint for, inter alia, respondent's lack of standing under Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, was reversed by the Court of Appeals. That court held that respondent had standing as a taxpayer on the ground that he satisfied Flast's requirements that the allegations (1) challenge an enactment under the Taxing and Spending Clause of Art I, § 8, and show (2) a "nexus" between the plaintiff's status and a specific constitutional limitation on the taxing and spending power.

Held: Respondent lacks standing to maintain this suit. Pp. 171-180.

(a) Flast, which stressed the need for meeting the requirements of Art. III, did not

undermine the salutary principle . . . established by Frothingham [v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447] . . . that a taxpayer may not "employ a federal court as a forum in which to air his generalized grievances about the conduct of government or the allocation of power in the Federal System."

Pp. 171-174.

(b) Respondent's challenge, not being addressed to the taxing or spending power, but to the statutes regulating the CIA's accounting and reporting procedures, provides no "logical nexus" between his status as "taxpayer" and the asserted failure of Congress to require [94 S.Ct. 2942] more detailed reports of expenditures of the CIA. Pp. 174-175.

(c) Respondent's claim that, without detailed information on the CIA's expenditures, he cannot properly follow legislative or executive action, and thereby fulfill his obligations as a voter, is a generalized grievance insufficient under Frothingham or Flast to show that "he has sustained or is immediately in danger of

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sustaining direct injury as the result" of such action. Ex parte Levitt, 302 U.S. 633, 634. Pp. 176-178.

465 F.2d 844, reversed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 180. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 197. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 235. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 202.

BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the respondent has standing to bring an action as a federal taxpayer1 alleging that certain provisions concerning public reporting of expenditures under the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949, 63 Stat. 208, 50

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U.S.C. § 403a et seq., violate Art. I, § 9, cl. 7, of the Constitution, which provides:

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

Respondent brought this suit in the United States District Court on a complaint in which he recites attempts to obtain from the Government information concerning detailed expenditures of the Central Intelligence Agency. According to the complaint, respondent wrote to the Government Printing Office in 1967 and requested that he be provided with the documents "published by the Government in compliance with Article I, section 9, clause (7) of the United States Constitution." The Fiscal Service of the Bureau of Accounts of the Department of the Treasury replied, explaining that it published the document known as the Combined Statement of Receipts, Expenditures, and Balances of the United States Government. Several copies of the monthly and daily reports of the office were sent with the letter. Respondent then wrote to the same office and, quoting part of the CIA Act, asked whether this statute did not "cast reflection upon the authenticity of the Treasury's Statement." He also inquired as to how he could receive further information on the expenditures of the CIA. The Bureau of Accounts replied stating that it had no other available information.

In another letter, respondent asserted that the CIA Act was repugnant to the Constitution and requested that the Treasury Department seek an opinion of the Attorney General. The Department answered declining to seek such an opinion, and this suit followed. Respondent's complaint asked the court to

issue a permanent

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injunction enjoining the defendants from publishing their "Combined Statement of Receipts, Expenditures and Balances of the United States Government" and representing it as the fulfillment of the mandates of Article I Section 9 Clause 7 until same fully [94 S.Ct. 2943] complies with those mandates.2

In essence, the respondent asked the federal court to declare unconstitutional that provision of the Central Intelligence Agency Act which permits the Agency to account for its expenditures "solely on the certificate of the Director. . . ." 50 U.S.C. § 403j(b). The only injury alleged by respondent was that he "cannot obtain a document that sets out the expenditures and receipts" of the CIA, but, on the contrary, was "asked to accept a fraudulent document." The District Court granted a motion for dismissal on the ground respondent lacked standing under Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83 (1968), and that the subject matter raised political questions not suited for judicial disposition.

The Court of Appeals sitting en banc, with three judges dissenting, reversed, 465 F.2d 844 (CA3 1972), holding that the respondent had standing to bring this action.3 The majority relied chiefly on Flast v. Cohen,

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supra, and its two-tier test that taxpayer standing rests on a showing of (a) a "logical link" between the status a a taxpayer and the challenged legislative enactment, i.e., an attack on an enactment under the Taxing and Spending Clause of Art. I, § 8, of the Constitution; and (b) a "nexus" between the plaintiff's status and a specific constitutional limitation imposed on the taxing and spending power. 392 U.S. at 102-103. While noting that the respondent did not directly attack an appropriations act, as did the plaintiff in Flast, the Court of Appeals concluded that the CIA statute challenged by the respondent was "integrally related," 465 F.2d at 853, to his ability to challenge the appropriations, since he could not question an appropriation about which he had no knowledge. The Court of Appeal seemed to rest its holding on an assumption that this case was a prelude to a later case challenging, on the basis of information obtained in this suit, some particular appropriation for or expenditure of the CIA; respondent stated no such an intention in his complaint. The dissenters took a different approach urging denial of standing principally because, in their view, respondent alleged no specific injury, but only a general interest common to all members of the public.

We conclude that respondent lacks standing to maintain a suit for the relief sought, and we reverse.

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As far back as Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 (1803), this Court held that judicial power may be exercised only in a case properly before it -- a "case or controversy" not suffering any of the limitations of the political question doctrine, not then moot or calling for an advisory opinion. In Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962), this limitation was described in terms that a federal court [94 S.Ct. 2944] cannot

"pronounce any statute, either of a State or of the United States, void, because irreconcilable with the Constitution, except as it is called upon to adjudge the legal rights of litigants in actual controversies." Liverpool Steamship Co. v. Commissioners of Emigration, 113 U.S. 33, 39.

Recently, in Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150 (1970), the Court, while noting that "[g]eneralizations about standing to sue are largely worthless as such," id. at 151, emphasized that

[o]ne generalization is, however, necessary, and that is that the question of standing in the federal courts is to be considered in the framework of Article III, which restricts judicial power to "cases" and "controversies."4

Although the recent holding of the Court in Flast v. Cohen, supra, is a starting point in an examination of respondent's claim to prosecute this suit as a taxpayer, that case must be read with reference to its principal predecessor, Frothingham v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447 (1923). In Frothingham, the injury alleged was that the congressional enactment challenged as unconstitutional would, if implemented, increase the complainants

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future federal income taxes.5 Denying standing, the Frothingham Court rested on the "comparatively minute[,] remote, fluctuating and uncertain," id. at 487, impact on the taxpayer, and the failure to allege the kind of direct injury required for standing.

The party who invokes the [judicial] power must be able to show not only that the statute is invalid, but that he has sustained, or is immediately in danger of sustaining, some direct injury as the result of its enforcement, and not merely that he suffers in some indefinite way in common with people generally.

Id. at 488.

When the Court addressed the question of standing in Flast, Mr. Chief Justice Warren traced what he described as the...

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