Three citizens filed these lawsuits in federal court, alleging that local governments violated their right to constitutional due process by taking their property without first giving them adequate notice. They asked the courts to give them a chance to repay their back taxes and get their property back –- the same opportunity they would have had if they had gotten notice. The lower courts, however, threw out their cases, holding that the Tax Injunction Act (a law that Congress passed in 1937 to prevent big corporations from bringing drawn-out litigation challenging local taxes in federal courts) completely barred their suits and, more generally, barred any federal-court constitutional challenges involving local tax collection.
We filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to reject the lower courts’ broad reading of the 1937 law because (1) the law was only designed to apply where taxpayers seek to avoid paying taxes, (2) the lower courts’ decisions upset settled practice because citizens have historically been permitted to bring these types of challenges, and (3) the courts should be especially reluctant to preclude citizens’ ability to pursue constitutional claims in federal court. In an opinion issued on October 11, 2006, the court of appeals agreed with our arguments and held that the lawsuits should have been allowed to go forward. The court sent the cases back to the lower courts to hear the due process challenges and apply the Supreme Court’s decision in Jones v. Flowers.