Walz v. Tax Commission of City of New York
Decided May 4, 1970, 397 US 664


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Separation of church and state

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is the New York State's grant of property tax exemptions to religious organizations for religious properties a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Appellant, Frederick Walz, owned real estate in New York State, and paid property tax to the county. Non-profit organizations, including religious organizations, were exempt from paying this tax.

Walz brought suit in the New York Supreme Court, saying that exempting religious organizations while taxing him, indirectly required him to subsidize the religious organizations, in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause. Walz argued that he was paying a higher property tax, in order to make up for revenue lost due to these exemptions. The state court granted a summary judgment to the state, and the New York Court of Appeals affirmed.

On appeal the Supreme Court reversed.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Brief of amici curiae urging reversal was filed by Osmond K. Fraenkel, Marvin M. Karpatkin, Norman Dorsen, Edward J. Ennis, John DeJ. Pemberton, Jr., Melvin L. Wulf, and Burt Neuborne, for the American Civil Liberties.

Edward J. Ennis, New York City, for appellant

J. Lee Rankin, New York City, for appellee.


IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The legislative purpose of a property tax exemption is neither the advancement nor the inhibition of religion; it is neither sponsorship nor hostility. New York, in common with the other States, has determined that certain entities that exist in a harmonious relationship to the community at large, and that foster its 'moral or mental improvement,' should not be inhibited in their activities by property taxation or the hazard of loss of those properties for nonpayment of taxes. It has not singled out one particular church or religious group or even churches as such; rather, it has granted exemption to all houses of religious worship within a broad class of property owned by nonprofit, quasi-public corporations which include hospitals, libraries, playgrounds, scientific, professional, historical, and patriotic groups. The State has an affirmative policy that considers these groups as beneficial and stabilizing influences in community life and finds this classification useful, desirable, and in the public interest."

The New York Court of Appeals affirmed Appellee's summary judgment and the US Supreme Court affirmed.

Justice Vote: 1 Pro vs. 8 Con
  • Douglas, W Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Burger, W. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Harlan, J. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Con (Joined majority opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the Court of Appeals; the Supreme Court affirmed in a 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.