Ep. 19: Timothy Keller, Managing Attorney of the Institute for Justice’s Arizona Office

Listen to Episode 19 with Timothy Keller

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Episode Description

Timothy Keller and I talk about his work as the managing attorney for the Institute of Justice’s Arizona Office and how he has promoted educational choice programs throughout his career. We go behind the scenes of the 2011 Supreme Court Case Arizona Christian School v. Winn, a case fighting for educational choice programs, which Timothy helped lead to victory. Throughout our discussion we explore some of the arguments for and against school choice programs—which include vouchers, tax credits, scholarships, or Educational Savings Accounts. We also discuss how state “Blaine Amendments” are tremendous barriers to educational choice programs around the country. Stay tuned for a truly thought-provoking discussion.

Brief Show Notes

About Tim

Timothy Keller is the managing attorney of the Institute for Justice’s Arizona office, he litigates school choice, economic liberty, and other constitutional cases in state and federal court. He attended Arizona State University, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Economics. He returned to the school to receive his law degree. After clerking for several judges, he started work at the Institute for Justice in 2001 and has worked there ever since.

Educational Choice Programs

The Institute for Justice defines educational choice programs as programs that allow students to leave their public schools to attend a private school instead, using money granted to them by the state.

Timothy tells us about some of the different types of programs. First, publicly funded scholarships. These programs use state funds to pay tuition at a private school in the form of a voucher, for example. Second, tax-credit funded scholarship programs, which allow private citizens to donate to nonprofit organizations and receive a tax credit for doing so. The donations are then used to fund scholarships for students. Third, educational savings accounts. These accounts are made up of money parents can use at their own discretion, meaning the money can go towards tuition, educational supplies, classes, or whatever other needs they have.

Arizona Christian School Organization v. Winn

Timothy was the lead attorney in the case for the Institute for Justice. The plaintiffs, who were taxpayers, stated that the use of a tax-credit based educational choice program violated the separation of church and state doctrine in the constitution. However, the court found, and Timothy argued, that the plaintiffs could not bring the case to the court because the funds were never in the hands of the government. Since the only government involvement was to give a tax-credit, the money was always in private hands.

Blaine Amendments

Blaine Amendments are any provision in a state constitution prohibiting the use of public funds from going towards a religious or sectarian organization. We analyze the barrier these amendments pose to school choice programs, and some of the arguments the Institute for Justice uses in front of the courts to fight them.

To complement our discussion, we delve into the Supreme Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, inc. v. Comer. This case challenged Missouri’s Blaine Amendment that was used to prevent the Trinity Lutheran Church from receiving funds from a statewide program. The Institute for Justice filed an amicus brief in the case to show the court how the decision could impact school choice programs around the country.

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