Locke v. Davey

Locke v. Davey
Institute for Justice Urged U.S. Supreme Court to Strike Down the State of Washington’s Barriers to School Choice (IJ Amicus)

The State of Washington denied a college scholarship to theology student Joshua Davey, arguing that the Washington Constitution bars state funding for religious studies and schools—even though the scholarships support students, not schools, just like school choice programs.  In July 2002, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Davey.  The 9th Circuit reasoned that the State of Washington may not interpret its state constitution’s religion clauses, including its Blaine Amendment, to inhibit the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the federal Constitution by denying the choice of religious options.

The State of Washington appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepted the case. In an amicus brief on behalf of organizations dedicated to education reform, the Institute for Justice urged the Court to uphold the 9th Circuit ruling and once and for all rein in overly broad interpretations of state constitutional religion clauses.  Those very clauses—the Blaine Amendment and the “compelled support clause”—are the favorite legal tool of teachers’ unions to attack K-12 school choice programs that allow parents to select religious schools.

Instead of issuing a broad decision striking down Blaine Amendments, the Court in February 2004 rejected Davey’s claims.  But, importantly, it carefully limited the scope of its decision.  The Court sidestepped the Blaine Amendment question and issued a ruling examining only the state funding of college-level training for the ministry—not religiously neutral K-12 school choice programs.  Those issues remain to be litigated another day.

Essential Background


Backgrounder: none available

Client Photo - none available

Latest Release: Understanding Locke v. Davey and School Choice (March 1, 2004)

Client Video - none available


Launch Release: Institute for Justice Urges U.S. Supreme Court To Strike Down State Barriers to School Choice (September 8, 2003)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Download IJ's Amicus Brief




Case Timeline

Amicus Filed:


September 8, 2003

Court Filed:


U.S. Supreme Court



February 25, 2004: U.S. Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling, denying state-funded scholarships specifically for college students training for the ministry



Case Completed




Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Institute for Justice Comments on Locke v. Davey: "Narrow Ruling Does Not Touch School Choice" (February 25, 2004)


Visit our comprehensive School Choice Media Kit

Release: Ninth Circuit Ruling in Religious Funding Case Could Remove "Blaine Amendment" Obstacle to School Choice (July 19, 2002)


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