Wronged by the Court’s Fine Print

Americans are losing constitutional liberties, but we don’t notice, because it’s all being done in technical” rulings, in the fine print that few understand.

Last summer, for example, the court handed down a relatively obscure ruling in Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation. FFRF had sued the federal government, challenging parts of the president’s faith-based initiative. The court didn’t rule on the merits of the case; instead, it tightened a doctrine called “taxpayer standing” and ruled that the plaintiffs, being mere taxpayers, had no right to complain.

. . . If no one has the right to sue when government denies you that right–if there is nothing you can do when government breaks the rules–there really isn’t a right. By definition, rights are enforceable.

After Hein, taxpayers who complain that a government agency is violating the First Amendment can’t just point to the improper expenditure of tax dollars. They have to identify a statute that specifically directs that the funds be spent in the allegedly unconstitutional way. If the challenged expenditures were made at the discretion of an elected or appointed official, too bad.

The current Supreme Court is neither liberal nor conservative. It’s authoritarian.

Excerpt of “Wronged by the court’s fine print,” by Sheila Suess Kennedy, Indianapolis Star, Nov. 12, 2007. Kennedy is an associate professor of law and public policy, Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Indianapolis.

Freedom From Religion Foundation