Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismisses parsonage tax case three months after settlement
Shortly before the Pledge of Allegiance case, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was drawing fire from religious leaders for suggesting that pastors' tax deductions for housing might be an unconstitutional state endorsement of religion.
The court's action was particularly galling because the IRS and Saddleback Community Church pastor Rick Warren had largely settled their differences and both agreed that the exemption was constitutional. Nevertheless, the court asked University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky to write a brief on the deduction's constitutionality.
Congress didn't care much about Chemerinsky's interpretation, and instead passed a law quickly and unanimously clarifying the tax code on the issue.
With the new law in place, the IRS and Warren asked the court to dismiss the case. But having been drawn into the case, Chemerinsky didn't want to let go. He filed an opposition to the dismissal, then filed a motion to intervene as a private taxpayer.
On Monday the court denied Chemerinsky's motion and dismissed the case.
But there's an ominous line in the dismissal: "Neither the voluntary dismissal here nor the passage of the Clergy Housing Allowance Clarification Act resolves the constitutionality of [clergy housing allowances]. Because Prof. Chemerinsky may raise this issue through a separate lawsuit, our denial of intervention will not impair his ability to protect his interest as a taxpayer."
In other words, it sounds like Warren may be heading back to court.
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