Taxpayers in Court: A Systematic Study of a (Misunderstood) Standing Doctrine
61 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2003
The legal literature reflects a widespread belief that taxpayers do not have standing to challenge government spending decisions in federal court - this study dispels that belief. Through an investigation of every published judicial opinion addressing a taxpayer's challenge to government spending between the years 1865 and 2002, this article demonstrates that taxpayer standing is alive and well in federal court; indeed, data indicate that federal courts have granted standing to the majority of taxpayers in the last twenty-five years. This article first describes the types of controversies that taxpayers bring into court and then investigates the legal rules that govern the court's decision to grant or deny standing. The study reveals a surprising finding: federal courts grant standing to federal, state, and municipal taxpayers to challenge government expenditures under the federal constitution. While the courts have devised a clear standard for determining when federal taxpayers have the right to bring a lawsuit, the same courts have failed to create a clear and coherent standard for state and municipal taxpayers seeking to challenge government spending decisions on constitutional grounds. A qualitative analysis of the cases, however, indicates that both the clear and the ambiguous standing rules produce illogical results in certain circumstances. Accordingly, the study ends with a normative discussion of the issues and problems that arise when we allow taxpayers to bring lawsuits in federal court, thereby enabling the judiciary to question the legislative decisions regarding the allocation of public revenue. This article raises questions about the judicial decision making process and federal courts' adherence to legal rules. I investigate these subsidiary questions using statistics to analyze the data in an article entitled, "Modeling Standing," NYU Law Review (forthcoming 2004).
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation