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U.S. Supreme Court

New York v. Cathedral Academy, 434 U.S. 125 (1977)

New York v. Cathedral Academy

No. 76-616

Argued October 3, 1977

Decided December 6, 1977

434 U.S. 125


A three-judge District Court issued a judgment (later affirmed by this Court) declaring unconstitutional a New York statute (1970 N.Y. Laws, ch. 138) that authorized reimbursement to nonpublic schools for state-mandated recordkeeping and testing services, and permanently enjoining any payments under the Act, including reimbursement for expenses that such schools had already incurred in the last half of the 1971-1972 school year. Thereafter, the New York State Legislature enacted 1972 N.Y. Laws, ch. 996, authorizing reimbursement to sectarian schools for their expenses of performing the state-required services through the 1971-1972 school year. Appellee sectarian school brought this reimbursement action under ch. 996 in the New York Court of Claims, which held that the statute violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The New York Court of Appeals, being of the view that ch. 996 comported with this Court's decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 411 U. S. 192 (Lemon II), ultimately reversed, and remanded the case for a determination of the amount of appellee's claim. In that case, after a state statute authorizing payments to sectarian schools for specified secular services had been struck down (in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (Lemon I)) and the trial court on remand had enjoined payments under the statute for any services performed after that decision, but had not prohibited payments for services provided before that date, the Court approved such disposition on the ground that equitable flexibility permitted weighing the "remote possibility of constitutional harm from allowing the State to keep its bargain" against the substantial reliance of the schools that had incurred expenses at the State's express invitation.


1. This Court has jurisdiction of this appeal as the Court of Appeals' decision was a final determination of the federal constitutional issue and is ripe for appellate review under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2). P. 434 U. S. 128.

2. Chapter 996 violates the First Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth because it will necessarily have the primary effect of aiding religion, or will result in excessive state involvement in religious affairs. Lemon II distinguished. Pp. 434 U. S. 128-133.

(a) Here (contrary to the situation in Lemon II) the District Court had expressly enjoined payments for amounts "heretofore or hereafter expended." To approve enactment of ch. 996, which thus

Page 434 U. S. 126

was inconsistent with the District Court's order, would expand the reasoning of Lemon II to hold that a state legislature may effectively modify a federal court's injunction whenever a balancing of constitutional equities might conceivably have justified the court's granting similar relief in the first place. Pp. 434 U. S. 128-130.

(b) If ch. 996 authorizes payments for the identical services that were to be reimbursed under ch. 138, it is for the identical reasons invalid. Pp. 434 U. S. 130-131.

(c) Even if, as appellee contends, the Court of Claims was authorized to make an audit on the basis of which it would authorize reimbursement of sectarian schools only for clearly secular purposes, such a detailed inquiry would itself encroach upon the First and Fourteenth Amendments by making that court the arbiter of an essentially religious dispute. Pp. 434 U. S. 131-133.

3. Contrary to Lemon II, the equities do not support what the state legislature has done in ch. 996, which constitutes a new and independently significant infringement of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Moreover, appellee could have relied on ch. 138 only by spending its own funds for nonmandated, and perhaps sectarian, activities that it might otherwise not have been able to afford. Pp. 434 U. S. 133-134.

39 N.Y.2d 1021, 355 N.E.2d 300, reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,and REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 434 U. S. 134. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 434 U. S. 134.

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