United States v. Richardson,
418 U.S. 166 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166 (1974)

United States v. Richardson

No. 72-885

Argued October 10, 1973

Decided June 25, 1974

418 U.S. 166


Respondent, as a federal taxpayer, brought this suit for the purpose of obtaining a declaration of unconstitutionality of the Central Intelligence Agency Act, which permits the CIA to account for its expenditures "solely on the certificate of the Director. . . ." 50 U.S.C. § 403j(b). The complaint alleged that the Act violated Art. I, § 9, cl. 7, of the Constitution insofar as that clause requires a regular statement and account of public funds. The District Court's dismissal of the complaint for, inter alia, respondent's lack of standing under Flast v. Cohen, 392 U. S. 83, was reversed by the Court of Appeals. That court held that respondent had standing as a taxpayer on the ground that he satisfied Flast's requirements that the allegations (1) challenge an enactment under the Taxing and Spending Clause of Art I, § 8, and show (2) a "nexus" between the plaintiff's status and a specific constitutional limitation on the taxing and spending power.

Held: Respondent lacks standing to maintain this suit. Pp. 418 U. S. 171-180.

(a) Flast, which stressed the need for meeting the requirements of Art. III, did not

"undermine the salutary principle . . . established by Frothingham \[v. Mellon, 262 U. S. 447] . . . that a taxpayer may not 'employ a federal court as a forum in which to air his generalized grievances about the conduct of government or the allocation of power in the Federal System.'"

Pp. 418 U. S. 171-174.

(b) Respondent's challenge, not being addressed to the taxing or spending power, but to the statutes regulating the CIA's accounting and reporting procedures, provides no "logical nexus" between his status as "taxpayer" and the asserted failure of Congress to require more detailed reports of expenditures of the CIA. Pp. 418 U. S. 174-175.

(c) Respondent's claim that, without detailed information on the CIA's expenditures, he cannot properly follow legislative or executive action, and thereby fulfill his obligations as a voter, is a generalized grievance insufficient under Frothingham or Flast to show that "he has sustained or is immediately in danger of

Page 418 U. S. 167

sustaining direct injury as the result" of such action. Ex parte Levitt, 302 U.S. 633, 634. Pp. 418 U. S. 176-178.

465 F.2d 844, reversed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 418 U. S. 180. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 418 U. S. 197. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 418 U. S. 235. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 418 U. S. 202.

Primary Holding

There is no standing for a taxpayer bringing a generalized grievance against regulations of an agency's accounting and reporting procedures.


Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution requires a public accounting of the receipts and expenditures of public money. Richardson, a taxpayer, sought to challenge parts of the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949 on the grounds that it violated this clause of the Constitution. Although he did not argue that Congress was exceeding its authority under the taxing and spending power in allocating its funds, he sought information from the government on how the CIA spends its funds.



  • Warren Earl Burger (Author)
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

Status as a taxpayer may give rise to a claim that Congress has violated the taxing and spending power in allocating its funds. However, there is no connection between taxpayer status and any lack of disclosure of the CIA's expenditures. This claim is simply a generalized grievance about the way that the government is going about its business. Every individual in the nation would suffer a similar type of harm if Congress withholds this information, so the standing requirement of showing a particular injury has not been met. He must use the political system to address his concerns.


  • Potter Stewart (Author)
  • Thurgood Marshall

This claim is based on a plaintiff's pursuit of a judicial decision that the defendant owes him a duty. He argues that Congress has a duty to provide him, as a citizen, with an accounting of how it is allocating public funds. The judicial system is the proper place to determine whether such a duty exists.


  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)


  • William Orville Douglas (Author)


  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)

Case Commentary

Courts would be unreasonably clogged if private citizens could bring actions based merely on the government's perceived failure to follow the law. The only exception to the ban on standing for generalized grievances concerns the Establishment Clause.

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