The Story of Bob Jones University v. United States: Race, Religion, and Congress’ Extraordinary Acquiescence
STATUTORY INTERPRETATION STORIES, William Eskridge & Elizabeth Garrett, eds., Foundation Press, 2010
31 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2010 Last revised: 16 Mar 2010
Date Written: March 11, 2010
On May 25, 1983, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had authority to deny tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University, Goldsboro Christian School, and other private and religious schools with racially discriminatory educational policies. The Court relied on the statute’s broad purpose and placed significant weight on Congress’ failure to enact legislation to overturn the IRS policy. A complete account of the legislative history, provided here, both supports and undercuts the Court’s opinion. More importantly, this story provides an account of the dynamic interaction among a Supreme Court critical of racial integration, a Congress divided on this issue, and a presidency at war with itself. In the end, the story suggests that Bob Jones may have a limited role in shaping interpretive methodology, but that the case reveals how all three branches of government (as well as the public) interact to shape a statute’s meaning.
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