No Standing for Private Citizens

A quick note on Monday’s Supreme Court decision denying individual tax payers the ability to bring suit against the government for mis-spending funds on religious organizations. The decision is unfortunate for it takes away an important check on our government, and erodes the separation between church and state. By barring individual citizens from initiating a suit, the Supreme Court has left enforcement of this constitutional principle primarily in the hands of the government – the very government that allegedly is mis-allocating funds in the first place.

The Executive branch, especially the Bush Administration, is highly unlikely to effectively police its own activities. Already, those who do not toe the line in prosecuting bogus voter fraud allegations for political purposes have been purged; employees have been asked to put their political affiliation on resumes; and political advisors have held strategy sessions with a variety of departments to further political, rather than governmental, goals. Is this climate one that engenders rigorous oversight of policies that, in the worst light, are sops to the religious right and the republican base?

Several years ago, over a vigorous dissent from Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court upheld the ability of individuals to bring suits forcing the government to adhere to its own environmental regulations. The country is a better and safer place where citizens can act as “private attorney generals” when the government fails its own standards. It is unfortunate the Supreme Court did not follow similar logic this week.

Cato