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UNITED STATES ET AL. v. RICHARDSON

decided: June 25, 1974.

UNITED STATES ET AL
v.
RICHARDSON



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.

Burger, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which White, Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist, JJ., joined. Powell, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 180. Douglas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 197. Brennan, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 235. Stewart, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Marshall, J., joined, post, p. 202.

Author: Burger

[ 418 U.S. Page 167]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the respondent has standing to bring an action as a federal taxpayer*fn1 alleging that certain provisions concerning public reporting of expenditures under the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949, 63 Stat. 208, 50

[ 418 U.S. Page 168]

     U. S. C. § 403a et seq., violate Art. I, § 9, cl. 7, of the Constitution which provides:

"No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time."

Respondent brought this suit in the United States District Court on a complaint in which he recites attempts to obtain from the Government information concerning detailed expenditures of the Central Intelligence Agency. According to the complaint, respondent wrote to the Government Printing Office in 1967 and requested that he be provided with the documents "published by the Government in compliance with Article I, section 9, clause (7) of the United States Constitution." The Fiscal Service of the Bureau of Accounts of the Department of the Treasury replied, explaining that it published the document known as the Combined Statement of Receipts, Expenditures, and Balances of the United States Government. Several copies of the monthly and daily reports of the office were sent with the letter. Respondent then wrote to the same office and, quoting part of the CIA Act, asked whether this statute did not "cast reflection upon the authenticity of the Treasury's Statement." He also inquired as to how he could receive further information on the expenditures of the CIA. The Bureau of Accounts replied stating that it had no other available information.

In another letter, respondent asserted that the CIA Act was repugnant to the Constitution and requested that the Treasury Department seek an opinion of the Attorney General. The Department answered declining to seek such an opinion and this suit followed. Respondent's complaint asked the court to "issue a permanent

[ 418 U.S. Page 169]

     injunction enjoining the defendants from publishing their 'Combined Statement of Receipts, Expenditures and Balances of the United States Government' and representing it as the fulfillment of the mandates of Article I Section 9 Clause 7 until same fully complies with those mandates."*fn2 In essence, the respondent asked the federal court to declare unconstitutional that provision of the Central Intelligence Agency Act which permits the Agency to account for its expenditures "solely on the certificate of the Director . . . ." 50 U. S. C. § 403j (b). The only injury alleged by respondent was that he "cannot obtain a document that sets out the expenditures and receipts" of the CIA but on the contrary was "asked to accept a fraudulent document." The District Court granted a motion for dismissal on the ground respondent lacked standing under Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83 (1968), and that the subject matter raised political questions not suited for judicial disposition.

[ 418 U.S. Page 170]

     The Court of Appeals sitting en banc, with three judges dissenting, reversed, 465 F.2d 844 (CA3 1972), holding that the respondent had standing to bring this action.*fn3 The majority relied chiefly on Flast v. Choen, Page 170} supra, and its two-tier test that taxpayer standing rests on a showing of (a) a "logical link" between the status as a taxpayer and the challenged legislative enactment, i. e., an attack on an enactment under the Taxing and Spending Clause of Art. I, § 8, of the Constitution; and (b) a "nexus" between the plaintiff's status and a specific constitutional limitation imposed on the taxing and spending power. 392 U.S., at 102-103. While noting that the respondent did not directly attack an appropriations act, as did the plaintiff in Flast, the Court of Appeals concluded that the CIA statute challenged by the respondent was "integrally related," 465 F.2d, at 853, to his ability to challenge the appropriations since he could not question an appropriation about which he had no knowledge. The Court of Appeals seemed to rest its holding on an assumption that this case was a prelude to a later case challenging, on the basis of information obtained in this suit, some particular appropriation for or expenditure of the CIA; respondent stated no such an intention in his complaint. The dissenters took a different approach urging denial of standing principally because, in their view, respondent alleged no specific injury but only a general interest common to all members of the public.

We conclude that respondent lacks standing to maintain a suit for the relief sought and we reverse.

[ 418 U.S. Page 171]

     I

As far back as Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 (1803), this Court held that judicial power may be exercised only in a case properly before it -- a "case or controversy" not suffering any of the limitations of the political-question doctrine, not then moot or calling for an advisory opinion. In Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962), this limitation was described in terms that a federal court cannot

"'pronounce any statute, either of a State or of the United States, void, because irreconcilable with the Constitution, except as it is called upon to adjudge the legal rights of litigants in actual controversies.' Liverpool Steamship Co. v. Commissioners of Emigration, 113 U.S. 33, 39."

Recently in Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150 (1970), the Court, while noting that "[generalizations] about standing to sue are largely worthless as such," id., at 151, emphasized that "[one] generalization is, however, necessary and that is that the question of standing in the federal courts is to be considered in the framework of Article III which restricts judicial power to 'cases' and 'controversies.'"*fn4

Although the recent holding of the Court in Flast v. Cohen, supra, is a starting point in an examination of respondent's claim to prosecute this suit as a taxpayer, that case must be read with reference to its principal predecessor, Frothingham v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447 (1923). In Frothingham, the injury alleged was that the congressional enactment challenged as unconstitutional would, if implemented, increase the complainant's

[ 418 U.S. Page 172]

     future federal income taxes.*fn5 Denying standing, the Frothingham Court rested on the "comparatively minute[,] remote, fluctuating and uncertain," id., at 487, impact on the taxpayer, and the failure to allege the kind of direct injury required for standing.

"The party who invokes the [judicial] power must be able to show not only that the statute is invalid but that he has sustained or is immediately in danger of sustaining some direct injury as the result of its enforcement, and not merely that he suffers in some indefinite way in common with people generally." Id., at 488.

When the Court addressed the question of standing in Flast, Mr. Chief Justice Warren traced what he described as the "confusion" following Frothingham as to whether the Court had announced a constitutional doctrine barring suits by taxpayers challenging federal expenditures as unconstitutional or simply a policy rule of judicial self-restraint. In an effort to clarify the confusion and to take into account intervening developments, of which class actions and joinder under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were given as examples, the Court embarked on "a fresh examination of the limitations upon standing to sue in a federal court and the application of those limitations to taxpayer suits." 392 U.S., at 94. That re-examination led, however, to the holding that a "taxpayer will have standing consistent with Article III to invoke federal

[ 418 U.S. Page 173]

     judicial power when he alleges that congressional action under the taxing and spending clause is in derogation of those constitutional provisions which operate to restrict the exercise of the taxing and spending power." Id., at 105-106. (Emphasis supplied.) In so holding, the Court emphasized that Art. III requirements are the threshold inquiry:

"The 'gist of the question of standing' is whether the party seeking relief has 'alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness . . . upon which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions.'" Id., at 99, citing Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S., at 204.

The Court then announced a two-pronged standing test which requires allegations: (a) challenging an enactment under the Taxing and Spending Clause of Art. I, § 8, of the Constitution; and (b) claiming that the challenged enactment exceeds specific constitutional limitations imposed on the taxing and spending power. 392 U.S., at 102-103. While the "impenetrable barrier to suits against Acts of Congress brought by individuals who can assert only the interest of federal taxpayers," id., at 85, had been slightly lowered, the Court made clear it was reaffirming the principle of Frothingham precluding a taxpayer's use of "a federal court as a forum in which to air his generalized grievances about the conduct of government or the allocation of power in the Federal System." Id., at 106. The narrowness of that holding is emphasized by the concurring opinion of MR. JUSTICE STEWART in Flast :

"In concluding that the appellants therefore have standing to sue, we do not undermine the salutary principle, established by Frothingham and reaffirmed

[ 418 U.S. Page 174]

     today, that a taxpayer may not 'employ a federal court as a forum in which to air his generalized grievances about the conduct of government or the allocation of power in the Federal System.'" Id., at 114.

II

Although the Court made it very explicit in Flast that a "fundamental aspect of standing" is that it focuses primarily on the party seeking to get his complaint before the federal court rather than "on the issues he wishes to have adjudicated," id., at 99, it made equally clear that

"in ruling on [taxpayer] standing, it is both appropriate and necessary to look to the substantive issues for another purpose, namely, to determine whether there is a logical nexus between the status asserted and the claim sought to be adjudicated." Id., at 102.*fn6

We therefore turn to an examination of the issues sought to be raised by respondent's complaint to determine whether he is "a proper and appropriate party to invoke federal judicial power," ibid., with respect to those issues.

We need not and do not reach the merits of the constitutional attack on the statute; our inquiry into the "substantive issues" is for the limited purpose indicated above. The mere recital of the respondent's claims and an examination of the statute under attack demonstrate how far he falls short of the standing criteria of Flast and how neatly he falls within the Frothingham

[ 418 U.S. Page 175]

     holding left undisturbed. Although the status he rests on is that he is a taxpayer, his challenge is not addressed to the taxing or spending power, but to the statutes regulating the CIA, specifically 50 U. S. C. § 403j (b). That section provides different accounting and reporting requirements and procedures for the CIA, as is also done with respect to other governmental agencies dealing in confidential areas.*fn7

Respondent makes no claim that appropriated funds are being spent in violation of a "specific constitutional limitation upon the . . . taxing and spending power . . . ." 392 U.S., at 104. Rather, he asks the courts to compel the Government to give him information on precisely how the CIA spends its funds. Thus there is no "logical nexus" between the asserted status of taxpayer and the claimed failure of the Congress to require the Executive to supply a more detailed report of the expenditures of that agency.*fn8

The question presented thus is simply and narrowly whether these claims meet the standards for taxpayer standing set forth in Flast ; we hold they do not. Respondent is seeking "to employ a federal court as a forum in which to air his generalized grievances about the conduct of government." 392 U.S., at 106. Both Frothingham and Flast, supra, reject that basis for standing.

[ 418 U.S. Page 176]

     III

The Court of Appeals held that the basis of ...


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