Anne Abramowitz

A Remedy for Every Right: What Federal Courts Can Learn from California’s Taxpayer Standing

Under current federal taxpayer standing doctrine, the right of citizens to challenge inappropriate government spending is almost entirely unavailable. For example, in the last two years, taxpayers have sought to challenge the record $700 billion in disbursements by the Treasury as a bailout package (or to challenge the use of this bailout money for buying corporate jets or giving bonuses to bankers), and have had their suits dismissed for lack of standing. These cases follow the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, in which the Court ruled that taxpayers have no standing to challenge executive action. Whether a taxpayer has standing to bring suit determines his or her ability to seek an injunction against government spending. Standing doctrine is already murky, and the Hein decision only added another layer of complexity onto its application to taxpayer plaintiffs.