4.18.2011

Regent Law Alumnus Wins Supreme Court Case

David Cortman (’96) is Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) and served as the lead attorney for the petitioner in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization (ACSTO) v. Winn which resulted in a win at the Supreme Court on April 4th that the ADF is calling “a huge victory for proponents of parental choice in education.”

Representatives for Kathleen Winn, and a few other taxpayers, initially filed a lawsuit against the Director of the Arizona Department of Revenue challenging the constitutionality of a tax credit program that allows private individuals to donate money to private non-profit organizations who then award scholarships to private schools. ADF represented Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization (ACSTO) in the case which is the largest non-profit school tuition organization in Ariz., supporting over 140 Christian private schools and granting over 17,000 scholarships to students. Winn argued that ACSTO is discriminative in awarding scholarships to students based upon their religious affiliations. They deemed this a violation of the Establishment Clause of the United Stated Constitution. According to Winn, the ability to take a tax credit turned the private contributions into “state funds” and therefore violated the “separation of church and state.”

Cortman, however, maintained that the mere fact that Winn, et al. are taxpayers did not give them standing to challenge tax credits for contributions to private or religious schools since the defendants were not personally injured by such actions. Moreover, the money in question was purely private donations, not government funds.

The Supreme Court agreed with Cortman and reversed the previous court’s decision.

“Parents should decide what schools their children attend and where their money goes. This constitutionally sound program allows families the liberty to choose what’s best for their kids,” said Cortman in an interview. “Those challenging Arizona parents’ rights have suffered no legal injury, giving them no reason to file suit in the first place. This program is neutral; the state never touches the private money involved, and it is one of several popular school choice programs that offer Arizona kids real educational opportunities.”

He went on to say, “Regardless of whether they are religious or non-religious, any type of private school can be legally funded by school tuition organizations, which distribute only private money. This type of funding does not become unconstitutional just because non-religious organizations have not taken as much initiative to make use of the opportunity.”


- By Molly Eccles