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Monday, July 02, 2007

Ind. Decisions - Notre Dame case goes to SCOTUS

The case is JOAN LASKOWSKI and DANIEL M. COOK v. MARGARET SPELLINGS, Secretary of Education, and UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME. For background, see this ILB entry from July 26, 2006, reporting on the 7th Circuit's denial of a rehearing in the case.

Inside Higher Ed reports today, in a story titled "Complicated Legal Win for Notre Dame" that begins:

A complicated legal dispute involving separation of church and state, management of federal grants, and the right to sue may now be decided based on that last question, one of standing, and the University of Notre Dame could benefit.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted an appeal by the University of Notre Dame of an appeals court’s ruling that the university might have to repay a $500,000 federal grant — even though the money had already been spent. The Supreme Court not only accepted the appeal, but vacated the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and ordered the lower court to reconsider the case in light of another ruling by the Supreme Court last week. That ruling, on the question of standing, could pose a challenge for those suing Notre Dame as it makes it much harder for citizens to challenge spending that they believe violates the separation of church and state.

The suit that led to all these legal maneuvers was filed by two taxpayers, helped by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, charging that Congress violated the separation of church and state when it earmarked $500,000 to Notre Dame in 2000 so the university could spread its Alliance for Catholic Education, which helps train teachers for Roman Catholic schools, to other universities. The appeals court ruling last year focused not on church and state, but on the question of whether the university could be forced to pay the government $500,000 when it had already spent the grant money, in accordance with the terms set out by the Education Department to manage the funds. * * *

Last week, the Supreme Court — in one of a series of 5-4 rulings — rejected a challenge brought by taxpayers on church-state grounds to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. [ILB - that was Hein - access it here.] The opinion held that the taxpayers’ views of the church-state issue did not give them legal standing to challenge it. In ordering the Notre Dame case to be re-evaluated in light of the White House case, the Supreme Court didn’t say explicitly that the standing issue should be examined. But that would appear to be the similarity in the two cases, and may not bode well for the plaintiffs.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 2, 2007 01:30 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions