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Richardson, United States v.


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418 U.S. 166 (1974), argued 10 Oct. 1973, decided 25 June 1974 by vote of 5 to 4; Burger for the Court, Powell concurring, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, and Marshall in dissent. Seeking to apply and expand the doctrine of taxpayer standing of Flast v. Cohen (1968). Richardson challenged the law that prohibited disclosure of CIA expenditures. He claimed a violation of Article I, section 9, which requires publication of all public expenditures. The trial court held that Richardson lacked standing under Flast because he was not challenging an appropriations act under the Taxing and Spending Clause. The court of appeals reversed, holding that he could first sue to obtain information about the CIA's appropriations that he needed in order to bring suit under the Flast doctrine.

The Supreme Court, giving Flast the narrowest possible reading, reversed again. It held that Richardson lacked standing because he was not directly alleging the unconstitutionality of an appropriations act and did not allege a specific violation of Congress's taxing and spending power. Chief Justice Warren Burger's opinion reaffirmed a basic principle of Frothingham. v. Mellon (1923), which scholars thought Flast had modified: a taxpayer cannot use federal courts “as a forum to air his general grievances about the conduct of government or the allocation of power in the federal system” (p. 175). Richardson had suffered no personal injury from the government's failure to disclose the CIA's budget; the issue, Burger said, was clearly not one for the courts to resolve. In dissent, Justices Potter Stewart and Thurgood Marshall insisted that a citizen ought to be able to challenge the failure of the government to carry out an affirmative constitutional duty without any showing of personal harm.

Joel B. Grossman

Subjects: Law.


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