Oral arguments began on January 22 at the United States Supreme Court for the case Espinoza v the Montana Department of Revenue.

United States Senator Steve Daines attended the oral arguments and voiced his support for a ruling in favor of Espinoza, a Kalispell woman who is one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“I’m standing in front of the United States Supreme Court, getting ready to go inside to hear oral arguments about a case that is very relevant to Montana,” Daines said in Washington, D.C. this morning.

“This is the Espinoza v. the Montana Department of Revenue case. This is about the fact that Montana parents and children are being discriminated against simply because of the school that they choose. This is about equal protection under the Constitution; this is about protecting our religious liberty. I’m looking forward to hearing these arguments and seeing Ms. Espinoza.”

The case is based on an amendment in Montana’s constitution that prevents direct and indirect taxpayer dollars from funding religious institutions. Montana’s Blaine amendment, a failed addition to the US Constitution, also prohibits states from using tax money or funds raised from public lands to aid religious schools.

In 2015, the Montana legislature created a tax credit program that matched donations to organizations that provided scholarships for students in private schools.

Shortly after, the Montana Supreme Court struck down the program. 70% of private schools in Montana are religiously affiliated. The court ruled that providing tax credits for donors to private schools was in violation of Montana’s constitution.

Those in support of Espinoza contend that the decision by Montana’s Supreme Court should be overturned. They argue that tax credits should be applied equally to religious and nonreligious schools.

Opponents of the case contend that ruling against Montana’s Supreme Court decision will harm efforts to fund public schools, especially in states with underfunded public education.

A full transcript of this morning’s oral arguments, provided by the Supreme Court, can be found here.


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