468 U.S. 737 (1984), 81-757, Allen v. Wright

Docket Nº:No. 81-757
Citation:468 U.S. 737, 104 S.Ct. 3315, 82 L.Ed.2d 556
Party Name:Allen v. Wright
Case Date:July 03, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 737

468 U.S. 737 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 3315, 82 L.Ed.2d 556




No. 81-757

United States Supreme Court

July 3, 1984

Argued February 29, 1984




The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) denies tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code -- and hence eligibility to receive charitable contributions deductible from income taxes under the Code -- to racially discriminatory private schools, and has established guidelines and procedures for determining whether a particular school is in fact racially nondiscriminatory. Respondents, parents of black children who were attending public schools in seven States in school districts undergoing desegregation, brought a nationwide class action in Federal District Court against petitioner Government officials (petitioner Allen, the head of a private school identified in the complaint, intervened as a defendant), alleging that the IRS has not adopted sufficient standards and procedures to fulfill its obligation to deny tax-exempt status to racially discriminatory private schools, and has thereby harmed respondents directly and interfered with their children's opportunity to receive an education in desegregated public schools. Respondents also alleged that many racially segregated private schools were created or expanded in their communities at the time the public schools were undergoing desegregation, and had received tax exemptions despite the IRS policy and guidelines; and that these unlawful tax exemptions harmed respondents in that they constituted tangible financial aid for racially segregated educational institutions and encouraged the organization and expansion of institutions that provided segregated educational opportunities for white students avoiding attendance in the public schools. Respondents did not allege that their children had ever applied or would ever apply for admission to any private school. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that respondents lacked standing to bring the suit. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: Respondents do not have standing to bring this suit. Pp. 750-766.

(a) The "case or controversy" requirement of Art. III of the Constitution defines with respect to the Judicial Branch the idea of separation of powers on which the Federal Government is founded, and the Art. III

Page 738

doctrine of "standing" has a core constitutional component that a plaintiff must allege personal injury fairly traceable to the defendant's allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed by the requested relief. The concepts of standing doctrine present questions that must be answered by reference to the Art. III notion that federal courts may exercise power only in the last resort and as a necessity, and only when adjudication is consistent with a system of separated powers and the dispute is one traditionally thought to be capable of resolution through the judicial process. Pp. 750-752.

(b) Respondents' claim that they are harmed directly by the mere fact of Government financial aid to discriminatory private schools fails because it does not [104 S.Ct. 3318] constitute judicially cognizable injury. Insofar as the claim may be interpreted as one simply to have the Government avoid the alleged violation of law in granting the tax exemptions, an asserted right to have the Government act in accordance with law is not sufficient, standing alone, to confer jurisdiction on a federal court. Nor do respondents have standing to litigate their claim based on the stigmatizing injury often caused by racial discrimination. Such injury accords a basis for standing only to those persons who are personally denied equal treatment by the challenged discriminatory conduct, and respondents do not allege a stigmatic injury suffered as a direct result of having personally been denied equal treatment. Pp. 753-756.

(c) Respondents' claim of injury as to their children's diminished ability to receive an education in a racially integrated school because of the federal tax exemptions granted to some racially discriminatory private schools -- though a judicially cognizable injury -- fails because the alleged injury is not fairly traceable to the Government conduct that is challenged as unlawful. Respondents have not alleged that there were enough racially discriminatory private schools receiving tax exemptions in respondents' communities for withdrawal of those exemptions to make an appreciable difference in public school integration. Moreover, it is entirely speculative whether withdrawal of a particular school's tax exemption would lead the school to change its policies; whether any given parent of a child attending such a private school would decide to transfer the child to public school as a result of any changes in policy of a private school threatened with loss of tax-exempt status; or whether, in a particular community, a large enough number of school officials and parents would reach decisions that collectively would have a significant impact on the racial composition of the public schools. To recognize respondents' standing to seek a restructuring of the apparatus established by the Executive Branch to fulfill its legal duties would run afoul of the idea of separation of powers that underlies standing doctrine. The

Page 739

Constitution assigns to the Executive Branch, not to the Judicial Branch, the duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. Pp. 756-761.

(d) None of the cases relied on by the Court of Appeals and by respondents to establish standing -- Gilmore v. City of Montgomery, 417 U.S. 556; Norwood v. Harrison, 413 U.S. 455; and Coit v. Green, 404 U.S. 997, summarily aff'g Green v. Connally, 330 F.Supp. 115 -- requires a finding of standing here. Pp. 761-766.

211 U.S.App.D.C. 231, 656 F.2d 820, reversed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 766. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 783. MARSHALL, J., took no part in the decision of the cases.

O'CONNOR, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

Parents of black public school children allege in this nationwide class action that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has not adopted sufficient standards and procedures to fulfill its obligation to deny tax-exempt status to racially discriminatory private schools. They assert that the IRS thereby harms them directly and interferes with the ability of their

Page 740

children to receive an education in desegregated public schools. The issue before us is whether plaintiffs have standing to bring this suit. We hold that they do not.


The IRS denies tax-exempt status under §§ 501(a) and (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. §§ 501(a) and (c)(3) -- and hence eligibility to receive charitable contributions deductible from income taxes under §§ 170(a)(1) and (c)(2) of the Code, 26 U.S.C. §§ 170(a)(1) and (c)(2) [104 S.Ct. 3319] -- to racially discriminatory private schools. Rev.Rul. 71-447, 1971-2 Cum.Bull. 230.1 The IRS policy requires that a school applying for tax-exempt status show that it

admits the students of any race to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at that school and that the school does not discriminate on the basis of race in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.

Ibid. To carry out this policy, the IRS has established guidelines and procedures for determining whether a particular school is in fact racially nondiscriminatory. Rev.Proc. 75-50, 1975-2 Cum.Bull. 587.2 Failure to comply with the guidelines "will ordinarily result in the proposed revocation of" tax-exempt status. Id. § 4.08, p. 589.

Page 741

The guidelines provide that

[a] school must show affirmatively both that it has adopted a racially nondiscriminatory policy as to students that is made known to the general public and that since the adoption of that policy it has operated in a bona fide manner in accordance therewith.

Id. § 2.02.3 The school must state its nondiscrimination policy in its organizational charter, id. § 4.01. pp. 587-588, and in all of its brochures, catalogs, and other advertisements to prospective students, id. § 4.02, p. 588. The school must make its nondiscrimination policy known to the entire community served by the school, and must publicly disavow any contrary representations made on its behalf once it becomes aware of them. Id. § 4.03.4 The school must have nondiscriminatory

Page 742

policies concerning all programs and facilities, id. § 4.04, p. 589, including scholarships and loans, id. § 4.05,5 and the school must annually certify, under penalty of perjury, [104 S.Ct. 3320] compliance with these requirements, id. § 4.07.6 The IRS rules require a school applying for tax-exempt status to give a breakdown along racial lines of its student body and its faculty and administrative staff, id. § 5.01-1, as well as of scholarships and loans awarded, id. § 5.01-2. They also require the applicant school to state the year of its organization, id. § 5.01-5, and to list "incorporators, founders, board members, and donors of land or buildings," id. § 5.01-3, and state whether any of the organizations among these have an objective of maintaining segregated public or private school education, id. § 5.01-4. The rules further provide that, once given an exemption, a school must keep specified records to document the extent of compliance with the IRS guidelines. Id. § 7, p. 590.7 Finally, the

Page 743

rules announce that any information concerning...

To continue reading