Hibbs v. Winn

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In Hibbs v. Winn, 542 U.S. 88 (2004), the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly held that the Tax Injunction Act does not withdraw jurisdiction from federal courts over an Establishment Clause claim to Arizona income-tax credits for payments to organizations that award educational scholarships and tuition grants to children attending private schools.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the 5-4 Court. The swing vote was provided by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (who has since been replaced by Justice Sam Alito, who is likely to rule differently):

The question presented is whether the Tax Injunction Act (TIA or Act), 28 U.S.C. § 1341[28 USCS § 1341], which prohibits a lower federal court from restraining "the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law," bars the suit. Plaintiffs-respondents do not contest their own tax liability. Nor do they seek to impede Arizona's receipt of tax revenues. Their suit, we hold, is not the kind § 1341 proscribes.

The Court held that:

In decisions spanning a near half century, courts in the federal system, including this Court, have entertained challenges to tax credits authorized by state law, without conceiving of § 1341 as a jurisdictional barrier. On this first occasion squarely to confront the issue, we confirm the authority federal courts exercised in those cases.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a strong dissent, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Kennedy wrote:

In this case, the Court shows great skepticism for the state courts' ability to vindicate constitutional wrongs. Two points make clear that the Court treats States as diminished and disfavored powers, rather than merely applies statutory text. First, the Court's analysis of the Tax Injunction Act (TIA or Act), 28 USC § 1341 [28 USCS § 1341], contrasts with a literal reading of its terms. Second, the Court's assertion that legislative histories support the conclusion that "[t]hird-party suits not seeking to stop the collection (or contest the validity) of a tax imposed on plaintiffs ... were outside Congress' purview" in enacting the TIA and the anti-injunction provision on which the TIA was modeled, ante, at 104, 159 L. Ed. 2d, at 187, is not borne out by those sources, as previously recognized by the Court. In light of these points, today's holding should probably be attributed to the concern the Court candidly shows animates it. See ante, at 93, 159 L. Ed. 2d, at 180-181 (noting it was the federal courts that "upheld the Constitution's equal protection requirement" when States circumvented Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 98 L. Ed. 873, 74 S. Ct. 686 (1954), by manipulating their tax laws). The concern, it seems, is that state courts are second rate constitutional arbiters, unequal to their federal counterparts. State courts are due more respect than this. Dismissive treatment of state courts is particularly unjustified since the TIA, by express terms, provides a federal safeguard: The Act lifts its bar on federal court intervention when state courts fail to provide "a plain, speedy, and efficient remedy." § 1341.
In view of the TIA's text, the congressional judgment that state courts are qualified constitutional arbiters, and the respect state courts deserve, I disagree with the majority's superseding the balance the Act strikes between federal and state court adjudication. I agree with the majority that the petition for certiorari was timely under 28 U.S.C. § 2101(c)[28 USCS § 2101(c)], see ante, at 96-99, 159 L. Ed. 2d, at 183-184, and so submit this respectful dissent on the merits of the decision.