Columbia Public Law & Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



Forthcoming in Statutory Interpretation Stories (Foundation Press 2010) (William Eskridge & Elizabeth Garrett eds.)


On May 25, 1983, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had authority to deny tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University, Goldsboro Christian School, and other private and religious schools with racially discriminatory educational policies. The Court relied on the statute’s broad purpose and placed significant weight on Congress’ failure to enact legislation to overturn the IRS policy. A complete account of the legislative history, provided here, both supports and undercuts the Court’s opinion. More importantly, this story provides an account of the dynamic interaction among a Supreme Court critical of racial integration, a Congress divided on this issue, and a presidency at war with itself. In the end, the story suggests that Bob Jones may have a limited role in shaping interpretive methodology, but that the case reveals how all three branches of government (as well as the public) interact to shape a statute’s meaning.

Date of Authorship for this Version

Winter 3-11-2010