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Frothingham v. Mellon


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262 U.S. 447 (1923), argued together with Massachusetts v. Mellon, 3–4 May 1923, decided 4 June 1923 by a vote of 9 to o; Sutherland for the Court. Frothingham and the state of Massachusetts brought suit against the U.S. secretary of treasury to invalidate the Federal Maternity Act of 1921. Under this statute the federal government would contribute funds to the states for the purpose of “promoting the welfare and hygiene of maternity and infancy.” Participating states were required to comply with federal regulations and match federal appropriations.

Massachusetts claimed the federal plan usurped authority reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment. Frothingham argued that the use of federal appropriations to carry out the plan resulted in a taking of her property without due process of law. The Court did not address either of these substantive complaints but rejected the cases for want of jurisdiction. Frothingham's case depended upon whether she had the required standing to challenge this statute in court. Her only claim to that status was that she was a federal taxpayer. Reasoning that her interest in any federal appropriations act was remote, the Court ruled that she did not have standing. To obtain standing, it ruled, a taxpayer must not only present a claim that the statute is invalid but also must show that some immediate personal injury was sustained. Here there was no case or controversy. This rule against taxpayer standing remained until it was modified in Flast v. Cohen (1968).

Paul Kens

Subjects: Law.


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