Espinoza v. Montana DOR

Case Name: Kendra Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue

Type of Case: Religious Liberty

Court: United States Supreme Court

Case Number: 18-1195

Filed On: April 12, 2019

Current Status: Pending oral argument

In 2015, Montana created a tax credit of $150 to individuals and businesses who donate to private, nonprofit scholarship organizations, who in turn offer scholarships to students to attend any private school.  The system is similar to tax-credit scholarship programs that operate in 18 states.

However, Montana also has a so-called “Blaine Amendment” in its state constitution that generally bars state funds from being paid, directly or indirectly, to any religious institution.  The Montana Supreme Court concluded that scholarships could not be given to students attending religious private schools without violating the state constitution.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has recently held that states may not prohibit religious institutions from participating in programs that make public funds generally available.  To do so is to unconstitutionally discriminate against religion, because a group can’t be excluded from a public benefit to which it is otherwise qualified solely because it is a church.

On behalf of former Governor Scott Walker, who oversaw a major expansion to Wisconsin’s private school voucher system, we filed an amicus brief urging the United State Supreme Court to hear this case and reverse the Montana Supreme Court.  Our brief focused on Wisconsin’s experience with private school vouchers.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari and will hear oral arguments on the case and issue a decision this term.

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