In The

Supreme Court of the United States




Decided June 23, 1997

Justice O’Connor, For the Court


Agostini v. Felton, 521 U.S. 203 (1997), is a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States. In this case, the Court overruled its decision in Aguilar v. Felton (1985), now finding that it was not a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment for a state-sponsored education initiative to allow public school teachers to instruct at religious schools, so long as the material was secular and neutral in nature and no "excessive entanglement" between government and religion was apparent. This case is noteworthy in a broader sense as a sign of evolving judicial standards surrounding the First Amendment, and the changes that have occurred in modern Establishment Clause jurisprudence.

Topic: First Amendment*Court vote: 5–4
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Joining O'Connor opinion: Justice KENNEDY Justice KENNEDY Chief Justice REHNQUIST Chief Justice REHNQUIST Justice SCALIA Justice SCALIA Justice THOMAS Justice THOMAS
Holding: Reverses Aguilar v. Felton in allowing public school teachers to instruct at religious schools, so long as the material was secular and neutral in nature and no 'excessive entanglement' between government and religion was apparent.
Citation: 521 U.S. 203 Docket: 96–552Audio: Listen to this case's oral arguments at Oyez

* As categorized by the Washington University Law Supreme Court Database

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JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Aguilar v. Felton, 473 U. S. 402 (1985), this Court held that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment barred the city of New York from sending public school teachers into parochial schools to provide remedial education to disadvantaged children pursuant to a congressionally mandated program. On remand, the District Court for the Eastern District of New York entered a permanent injunction reflecting our ruling. Twelve years later, petitionersthe parties bound by that injunction-seek relief from its operation. Petitioners maintain that Aguilar cannot be

tBriefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty by Kevin J. Hasson; for the Christian Legal Society et al. by Michael W McConnell, Thomas C. Berg, Steven T. McFarland, Kimberlee Wood Colby, and Samuel B. Casey; for the Knights of Columbus by James W Shannon, Jr.; for the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Mfairs by Nathan Lewin and Dennis Rapps; for Senator Robert F. Bennett by Ronald D. Maines; and for Sarah Peter et al. by Michael Joseph Woodruff and Scott J. Ward.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Jewish Congress et al. by Norman Redlich, Marc D. Stern, Marvin E. Frankel, David J. Strom, Richard T. Foltin, J. Brent Walker, Melissa Rogers, Robert Chanin, John West, Elliot M. Mincberg, and Judith E. Schaeffer; and for Americans United for Separation of Church and State et al. by Steven K. Green, Julie A. Segal, Steven R. Shapiro, and Arthur

Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the Council on Religious Freedom et al. by Lee Boothby, Walter E. Carson, and Robert W Nixon; for the Institute for Justice et al. by Mark Snyderman, William H. Mellor III, and Clint Bolick; for the New York County Lawyers Association Committee on Supreme Court of the United States by H. Elliot Wales; for the Pacific Legal Foundation by Sharon L. Browne; and for the United States Catholic Conference by Mark E. Chopko, John A. Liekweg, and Jeffrey Hunter Moon. squared with our intervening Establishment Clause jurisprudence and ask that we explicitly recognize what our more recent cases already dictate: Aguilar is no longer good law. We agree with petitioners that Aguilar is not consistent with our subsequent Establishment Clause decisions and further conclude that, on the facts presented here, petitioners are entitled under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5) to relief from the operation of the District Court's prospective injunction.


In 1965, Congress enacted Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 27, as modified, 20 U. S. C. § 6301 et seq., to "provid[e] full educational opportunity to every child regardless of economic background." S. Rep. No. 146, 89th Cong., 1st Sess., 5 (1965) (hereinafter Title I). Toward that end, Title I channels federal funds, through the States, to "local educational agencies" (LEA's). 20 U. S. C. §§ 6311, 6312.* The LEA's spend these funds to provide remedial education, guidance, and job counseling to eligible students. §§ 6315(c)(1)(A) (LEA's must use funds to "help participating children meet... State student performance standards"), 6315(c)(1)(E) (LEA's may use funds to provide "counseling, mentoring, and other pupil services"); see also §§ 6314(b)(1)(B)(i), (iv). An eligible student is one (i) who resides within the attendance boundaries of a public school located in a low-income area, § 6313(a)(2)(B); and (ii) who is failing, or is at risk of failing, the State's student performance standards, § 6315(b)(1)(B). Title I funds must be made available to all eligible children, regardless of whether they attend public schools, § 6312(c)(1)(F), and the services provided to children attending private schools must

*Title I has been reenacted, in varying forms, over the years, most recently in the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994, 108 Stat. 3518. We will refer to the current Title I provisions, which do not differ meaningfully for our purposes from the Title I program referred to in our previous decision in this litigation. be "equitable in comparison to services and other benefits for public school children," § 6321(a)(3); see § 6321(a)(1); 34 CFR §§ 200.10(a), 200.11(b) (1996).

An LEA providing services to children enrolled in private schools is subject to a number of constraints that are not imposed when it provides aid to public schools. Title I services may be provided only to those private school students eligible for aid, and cannot be used to provide services on a "school-wide" basis. Compare 34 CFR § 200.12(b) (1996) with 20 U. S. C. § 6314 (allowing "school-wide" programs at public schools). In addition, the LEA must retain complete control over Title I funds; retain title to all materials used to provide Title I services; and provide those services through public employees or other persons independent of the private school and any religious institution. §§ 6321(c)(1), (2). The Title I services themselves must be "secular, neutral, and nonideological," § 6321(a)(2), and must "supplement, and in no case supplant, the level of services" already provided by the private school, 34 CFR § 200.12(a) (1996).

Petitioner Board of Education of the City of New York (hereinafter Board), an LEA, first applied for Title I funds in 1966 and has grappled ever since with how to provide Title I services to the private school students within its jurisdiction. Approximately 10% of the total number of students eligible for Title I services are private school students. See App. 38, 620. Recognizing that more than 90% of the private schools within the Board's jurisdiction are sectarian, Felton v. Secretary, United States Dept. of Ed., 739 F.2d 48, 51 (CA2 1984), the Board initially arranged to transport children to public schools for after-school Title I instruction. But this enterprise was largely unsuccessful. Attendance was poor, teachers and children were tired, and parents were concerned for the safety of their children. Ibid. The Board then moved the after-school instruction onto private school campuses, as Congress had contemplated when it enacted Title 1. See Wheeler v. Barrera, 417 U. S. 402, 422 (1974). After this program also yielded mixed results, the Board implemented the plan we evaluated in Aguilar v. Felton, 473 U. S. 402 (1985).

That plan called for the provision of Title I services on private school premises during school hours. Under the plan, only public employees could serve as Title I instructors and counselors. Id., at 406. Assignments to private schools were made on a voluntary basis and without regard to the religious affiliation of the employee or the wishes of the private school. Ibid.; 739 F. 2d, at 53. As the Court of Appeals in Aguilar observed, a large majority of Title I teachers worked in nonpublic schools with religious affiliations different from their own. 473 U. S., at 406. The vast majority of Title I teachers also moved among the private schools, spending fewer than five days a week at the same school. Ibid.

Before any public employee could provide Title I instruction at a private school, she would be given a detailed set of written and oral instructions emphasizing the secular purpose of Title I and setting out the rules to be followed to ensure that this purpose was not compromised. Specifically, employees would be told that (i) they were employees of the Board and accountable only to their public school supervisors; (ii) they had exclusive responsibility for selecting students for the Title I program and could teach only those children who met the eligibility criteria for Title I; (iii) their materials and equipment would be used only in the Title I program; (iv) they could not engage in team teaching or other cooperative instructional activities with private school teachers; and (v) they could not introduce any religious matter into their teaching or become involved in any way with the religious activities of the private schools. Ibid. All religious symbols were to be removed from classrooms used for Title I services. Id., at 407. The rules acknowledged that it might be necessary for Title I teachers to consult with a student's regular classroom teacher to assess the student's particular needs and progress, but admonished instructors to limit those consultations to mutual professional concerns regarding the student's education. 739 F. 2d, at 53. To ensure compliance with these rules, a publicly employed field supervisor was to attempt to make at least one unannounced visit to each teacher's classroom every month. 473 U. S., at 407.

In 1978, six federal taxpayers-respondents here-sued the Board in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Respondents sought declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the Board's Title I program violated the Establishment Clause. The District Court permitted the parents of a number of parochial school students who were receiving Title I services to intervene as codefendants. The District Court granted summary judgment for the Board, but the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed. While noting that the Board's Title I program had "done so much good and little, if any, detectable harm," 739 F. 2d, at 72, the Court of Appeals nevertheless held that Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S. 349 (1975), and Wolman v. Walter, 433 U. S. 229 (1977), compelled it to declare the program unconstitutional. In a 5-to-4 decision, this Court affirmed on the ground that the Board's Title I program necessitated an "excessive entanglement of church and state in the administration of [Title 1] benefits." 473 U. S., at 414. On remand, the District Court permanently enjoined the Board"from using public funds for any plan or program under [Title I] to the extent that it requires, authorizes or permits public school teachers and guidance counselors to provide teaching and counseling services on the premises of sectarian schools within New York City." App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 96-553, pp. A25-A26. The Board, like other LEA's across the United States, modified its Title I program so it could continue serving those students who attended private religious schools. Rather than offer Title I instruction to parochial school students at their schools, the Board reverted to its prior practice of providing instruction at public school sites, at leased sites, and in mobile instructional units (essentially vans converted into classrooms) parked near the sectarian school. The Board also offered computer-aided instruction, which could be provided "on premises" because it did not require public employees to be physically present on the premises of a religious school. App. 315.

It is not disputed that the additional costs of complying with Aguilar's mandate are significant. Since the 19861987 school year, the Board has spent over $100 million providing computer-aided instruction, leasing sites and mobile instructional units, and transporting students to those sites. App. 333 ($93.2 million spent between 1986-1987 and 1993-1994 school years); id., at 336 (annual additional costs average around $15 million). Under the Secretary of Education's regulations, those costs "incurred as a result of implementing alternative delivery systems to comply with the requirements of Aguilar v. Felton" and not paid for with other state or federal funds are to be deducted from the federal grant before the Title I funds are distributed to any student. 34 CFR § 200.27(c) (1996). These "Aguilar costs" thus reduce the amount of Title I money an LEA has available for remedial education, and LEA's have had to cut back on the number of students who receive Title I benefits. From Title I funds available for New York City children between the 1986-1987 and the 1993-1994 school years, the Board had to deduct $7.9 million "off-the-top" for compliance with Aguilar. App. 333. When Aguilar was handed down, it was estimated that some 20,000 economically disadvantaged children in the city of New York, see 473 U. S., at 431 (O'CONNOR, J., dissenting), and some 183,000 children nationwide, see L. Levy, The Establishment Clause 176 (1986), would experience a decline in Title I services. See also S. Rep. No. 100-222, p. 14 (1987) (estimating that Aguilar costs have "resulted in a decline of about 35 percent in the number of private school children who are served").

In October and December of 1995, petitioners-the Board and a new group of parents of parochial school students entitled to Title I services-filed motions in the District Court seeking relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) from the permanent injunction entered by the District Court on remand from our decision in Aguilar. Petitioners argued that relief was proper under Rule 60(b)(5) and our decision in Rufo v. Inmates of Suffolk County Jail, 502 U. S. 367, 388 (1992), because the "decisional law [had] changed to make legal what the [injunction] was designed to prevent." Specifically, petitioners pointed to the statements of five Justices in Board of Ed. of Kiryas Joel Village School Dist. v. Grumet, 512 U. S. 687 (1994), calling for the overruling of Aguilar. The District Court denied the motion. The District Court recognized that petitioners, "at bottom," sought "a procedurally sound vehicle to get the [propriety of the injunction] back before the Supreme Court," App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 96-553, p. A12, and concluded that "the Board ha[d] properly proceeded under Rule 60(b) to seek relief from the injunction." Id., at A19. Despite its observations that "the landscape of Establishment Clause decisions has changed," id., at A10, and that "[t]here may be good reason to conclude that Aguilar's demise is imminent," id., at A20, the District Court denied the Rule 60(b) motion on the merits because Aguilar's demise had "not yet occurred." The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit "affirmed substantially for the reasons stated in" the District Court's opinion. App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 96-553, p. A5; judgt. order reported at 101 F.3d 1394 (1996). We granted certiorari, 519 U. S. 1086 (1997), and now reverse. II

The question we must answer is a simple one: Are petitioners entitled to relief from the District Court's permanent injunction under Rule 60(b)? Rule 60(b)(5), the subsection under which petitioners proceeded below, states:"On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party... from a final judgment [or] order... [when] it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application."

In Rufo v. Inmates of Suffolk County Jail, supra, at 384, we held that it is appropriate to grant a Rule 60(b)(5) motion when the party seeking relief from an injunction or consent decree can show "a significant change either in factual conditions or in law." A court may recognize subsequent changes in either statutory or decisional law. See Railway Employees v. Wright, 364 U. S. 642, 652-653 (1961) (consent decree should be vacated under Rule 60(b) in light of amendments to the Railway Labor Act); Rufo, supra, at 393 (vacating denial of Rule 60(b)(5) motion and remanding so District Court could consider whether consent decree should be modified in light of Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U. S. 520 (1979)); Pasadena City Bd. of Ed. v. Spangler, 427 U. S. 424, 437-438 (1976) (injunction should have been vacated in light of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 402 U. S. 1 (1971)). A court errs when it refuses to modify an injunction or consent decree in light of such changes. See Wright, supra, at 647 ("[T]he court cannot be required to disregard significant changes in law or facts if it is satisfied that what it has been doing has been turned through changed circumstances into an instrument of wrong" (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Petitioners point to three changes in the factual and legal landscape that they believe justify their claim for relief under Rule 60(b)(5). They first contend that the exorbitant costs of complying with the District Court's injunction con stitute a significant factual development warranting modification of the injunction. See Brief for Petitioner Agostini et al. 38-40. Petitioners also argue that there have been two significant legal developments since Aguilar was decided: a majority of Justices have expressed their views that Aguilar should be reconsidered or overruled, see supra, at 214; and Aguilar has in any event been undermined by subsequent Establishment Clause decisions, including Witters v. Washington Dept. of Servs. for Blind, 474 U. S. 481 (1986), Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School Dist., 509 U. S. 1 (1993), and Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819 (1995).

Respondents counter that, because the costs of providing Title I services off site were known at the time Aguilar was decided, and because the relevant case law has not changed, the District Court did not err in denying petitioners' motions. Obviously, if neither the law supporting our original decision in this litigation nor the facts have changed, there would be no need to decide the propriety of a Rule 60(b)(5) motion. Accordingly, we turn to the threshold issue whether the factual or legal landscape has changed since we decided Aguilar.

We agree with respondents that petitioners have failed to establish the significant change in factual conditions required by Rufo. Both petitioners and this Court were, at the time Aguilar was decided, aware that additional costs would be incurred if Title I services could not be provided in parochial school classrooms. See App. 66-68 (Defendants' Joint Statement of Material Facts Not In Dispute, filed in 1982, detailing costs of providing off-premises services); Aguilar, 473 U. S., at 430-431 (O'CONNOR, J., dissenting) (observing that costs of complying with Aguilar decision would likely cause a decline in Title I services for 20,000 New York City students). That these predictions of additional costs turned out to be accurate does not constitute a change in factual conditions warranting relief under Rule 60(b)(5). Accord, Rufo, supra, at 385 ("Ordinarily... modification should not be granted where a party relies upon events that actually were anticipated at the time [the order was entered]").

We also agree with respondents that the statements made by five Justices in Kiryas Joel do not, in themselves, furnish a basis for concluding that our Establishment Clause jurisprudence has changed. In Kiryas Joel, we considered the constitutionality of a New York law that carved out a public school district to coincide with the boundaries of the village of Kiryas Joel, which was an enclave of the Satmar Hasidic sect. Before the new district was created, Satmar children wishing to receive special educational services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U. S. C. § 1400 et seq., could receive those services at public schools located outside the village. Because Satmar parents rarely permitted their children to attend those schools, New York created a new public school district within the boundaries of the village so that Satmar children could stay within the village but receive IDEA services on public school premises from publicly employed instructors. In the course of our opinion, we observed that New York had created the special school district in response to our decision in Aguilar, which had required New York to cease providing IDEA services to Satmar children on the premises of their private religious schools. 512 U. S., at 692. Five Justices joined opinions calling for reconsideration of Aguilar. See 512 U. S., at 718 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); id., at 731 (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment); id., at 750 (SCALIA, J., joined by REHNQUIST, C. J., and THOMAS, J., dissenting). But the question of Aguilar's propriety was not before us. The views of five Justices that the case should be reconsidered or overruled cannot be said to have effected a change in Establishment Clause law.

In light of these conclusions, petitioners' ability to satisfy the prerequisites of Rule 60(b)(5) hinges on whether our later Establishment Clause cases have so undermined Aguilar that it is no longer good law. We now turn to that inquiry.


In order to evaluate whether Aguilar has been eroded by our subsequent Establishment Clause cases, it is necessary to understand the rationale upon which Aguilar, as well as its companion case, School Dist. of Grand Rapids v. Ball, 473 U. S. 373 (1985), rested.

In Ball, the Court evaluated two programs implemented by the School District of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The district's Shared Time program, the one most analogous to Title I, provided remedial and "enrichment" classes, at public expense, to students attending nonpublic schools. The classes were taught during regular school hours by publicly employed teachers, using materials purchased with public funds, on the premises of nonpublic schools. The Shared Time courses were in subjects designed to supplement the "core curriculum" of the nonpublic schools. Id., at 375-376. Of the 41 nonpublic schools eligible for the program, 40 were "'pervasively sectarian'" in character-that is, "'the purpos[e] of [those] schools [was] to advance their particular religions.'" Id., at 379.

The Court conducted its analysis by applying the threepart test set forth in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602 (1971):"First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion." 473 U. S., at 382-383 (quoting Lemon, supra, at 612-613) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

The Court acknowledged that the Shared Time program served a purely secular purpose, thereby satisfying the first part of the so-called Lemon test. 473 U. S., at 383. Nevertheless, it ultimately concluded that the program had the impermissible effect of advancing religion. Id., at 385.

The Court found that the program violated the Establishment Clause's prohibition against "government-financed or government-sponsored indoctrination into the beliefs of a particular religious faith" in at least three ways. Ibid. First, drawing upon the analysis in Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S. 349 (1975), the Court observed that "the teachers participating in the programs may become involved in intentionally or inadvertently inculcating particular religious tenets or beliefs." 473 U. S., at 385. Meek invalidated a Pennsylvania program in which full-time public employees provided supplemental "auxiliary services"-remedial and accelerated instruction, guidance counseling and testing, and speech and hearing services-to nonpublic school children at their schools. 473 U. S., at 367-373. Although the auxiliary services themselves were secular, they were mostly dispensed on the premises of parochial schools, where "an atmosphere dedicated to the advancement of religious belief [was] constantly maintained." Meek, 421 U. S., at 371. Instruction in that atmosphere was sufficient to create "[t]he potential for impermissible fostering of religion." Id., at 372. Cf. Wolman v. Walter, 433 U. S., at 248 (upholding programs employing public employees to provide remedial instruction and guidance counseling to nonpublic school children at sites away from the nonpublic school).

The Court concluded that Grand Rapids' program shared these defects. 473 U. S., at 386. As in Meek, classes were conducted on the premises of religious schools. Accordingly, a majority found a "'substantial risk'" that teachers-even those who were not employed by the private schools-might "subtly (or overtly) conform their instruction to the [pervasively sectarian] environment in which they [taught]." 473 U. S., at 388. The danger of "state-sponsored indoctrination" was only exacerbated by the school district's failure to monitor the courses for religious content. Id., at 387. Notably, the Court disregarded the lack of evidence of any specific incidents of religious indoctrination as largely irrelevant, reasoning that potential witnesses to any indoctrination-the parochial school students, their parents, or parochial school officials-might be unable to detect or have little incentive to report the incidents. Id., at 388-389.

The presence of public teachers on parochial school grounds had a second, related impermissible effect: It created a "graphic symbol of the 'concert or union or dependency' of church and state," id., at 391 (quoting Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306, 312 (1952)), especially when perceived by "children in their formative years," 473 U. S., at 390. The Court feared that this perception of a symbolic union between church and state would "conve[y] a message of government endorsement... of religion" and thereby violate a "core purpose" of the Establishment Clause. Id., at 389.

Third, the Court found that the Shared Time program impermissibly financed religious indoctrination by subsidizing "the primary religious mission of the institutions affected." Id., at 385. The Court separated its prior decisions evaluating programs that aided the secular activities of religious institutions into two categories: those in which it concluded that the aid resulted in an effect that was "indirect, remote, or incidental" (and upheld the aid); and those in which it concluded that the aid resulted in "a direct and substantial advancement of the sectarian enterprise" (and invalidated the aid). Id., at 393 (internal quotation marks omitted). In light of Meek and Wolman, Grand Rapids' program fell into the latter category. In those cases, the Court ruled that a state loan of instructional equipment and materials to parochial schools was an impermissible form of "direct aid" because it "advanced the primary, religion-oriented educational function of the sectarian school," 473 U. S., at 395 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted), by providing "in kind" aid (e. g., instructional materials) that could be used to teach religion and by freeing up money for religious indoctrination that the school would otherwise have devoted to secular education. Given the holdings in Meek and Wolman, the Shared Time program-which provided teachers as well as instructional equipment and materials-was surely invalid. 473 U. S., at 395. The Ball Court likewise placed no weight on the fact that the program was provided to the student rather than to the school. Nor was the impermissible effect mitigated by the fact that the program only supplemented the courses offered by the parochial schools. Id., at 395397.

The New York City Title I program challenged in Aguilar closely resembled the Shared Time program struck down in Ball, but the Court found fault with an aspect of the Title I program not present in Ball: The Board had "adopted a system for monitoring the religious content of publicly funded Title I classes in the religious schools." 473 U. S., at 409. Even though this monitoring system might prevent the Title I program from being used to inculcate religion, the Court concluded, as it had in Lemon and Meek, that the level of monitoring necessary to be "certain" that the program had an exclusively secular effect would "inevitably resul[t] in the excessive entanglement of church and state," thereby running afoul of Lemon's third prong. 473 U. S., at 409; see Lemon, 403 U. S., at 619 (invalidating Rhode Island program on entanglement grounds because "[a] comprehensive, discriminating, and continuing state surveillance will inevitably be required to ensure that thee] restrictions [against indoctrination] are obeyed"); Meek, supra, at 370 (invalidating Pennsylvania program on entanglement grounds because excessive monitoring would be required for the State to be certain that public school officials do not inculcate religion). In the majority's view, New York City's Title I program suffered from the "same critical elements of entanglement" present in Lemon and Meek: the aid was provided "in a per vasively sectarian environment... in the form of teachers," requiring "ongoing inspection... to ensure the absence of a religious message." 473 U. S., at 412. Such "pervasive monitoring by public authorities in the sectarian schools infringes precisely those Establishment Clause values at the root of the prohibition of excessive entanglement." Id., at 413. The Court noted two further forms of entanglement inherent in New York City's Title I program: the "administrative cooperation" required to implement Title I services and the "dangers of political divisiveness" that might grow out of the day-to-day decisions public officials would have to make in order to provide Title I services. Id., at 413-414.

Distilled to essentials, the Court's conclusion that the Shared Time program in Ball had the impermissible effect of advancing religion rested on three assumptions: (i) any public employee who works on the premises of a religious school is presumed to inculcate religion in her work; (ii) the presence of public employees on private school premises creates a symbolic union between church and state; and (iii) any and all public aid that directly aids the educational function of religious schools impermissibly finances religious indoctrination, even if the aid reaches such schools as a consequence of private decisionmaking. Additionally, in Aguilar there was a fourth assumption: that New York City's Title I program necessitated an excessive government entanglement with religion because public employees who teach on the premises of religious schools must be closely monitored to ensure that they do not inculcate religion.


Our more recent cases have undermined the assumptions upon which Ball and Aguilar relied. To be sure, the general principles we use to evaluate whether government aid violates the Establishment Clause have not changed since Aguilar was decided. For example, we continue to ask whether the government acted with the purpose of advanc ing or inhibiting religion, and the nature of that inquiry has remained largely unchanged. See Witters, 474 U. S., at 485 486; Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U. S. 589, 602-604 (1988) (concluding that Adolescent Family Life Act had a secular purpose); Board of Ed. of Westside Community Schools (Dist. 66) v. Mergens, 496 U. S. 226, 248-249 (1990) (concluding that Equal Access Act has a secular purpose); cf. Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U. S. 578 (1987) (striking down Louisiana law that required creationism to be discussed with evolution in public schools because the law lacked a legitimate secular purpose). Likewise, we continue to explore whether the aid has the "effect" of advancing or inhibiting religion. What has changed since we decided Ball and Aguilar is our understanding of the criteria used to assess whether aid to religion has an impermissible effect.


As we have repeatedly recognized, government inculcation of religious beliefs has the impermissible effect of advancing religion. Our cases subsequent to Aguilar have, however, modified in two significant respects the approach we use to assess indoctrination. First, we have abandoned the presumption erected in Meek and Ball that the placement of public employees on parochial school grounds inevitably results in the impermissible effect of state-sponsored indoctrination or constitutes a symbolic union between government and religion. In Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School Dist., 509 U. S. 1 (1993), we examined whether the IDEA, 20 U. S. C. § 1400 et seq., was constitutional as applied to a deaf student who sought to bring his state-employed signlanguage interpreter with him to his Roman Catholic high school. We held that this was permissible, expressly disavowing the notion that "the Establishment Clause [laid] down [an] absolute bar to the placing of a public employee in a sectarian school." 509 U. S., at 13. "Such a fiat rule, smacking of antiquated notions of 'taint,' would indeed exalt form over substance." Ibid. We refused to presume that a publicly employed interpreter would be pressured by the pervasively sectarian surroundings to inculcate religion by "add[ing] to [or] subtract[ing] from" the lectures translated. Ibid. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we assumed instead that the interpreter would dutifully discharge her responsibilities as a full-time public employee and comply with the ethical guidelines of her profession by accurately translating what was said. Id., at 12. Because the only government aid in Zobrest was the interpreter, who was herself not inculcating any religious messages, no government indoctrination took place and we were able to conclude that "the provision of such assistance [was] not barred by the Establishment Clause." Id, at 13. Zobrest therefore expressly rejected the notion-relied on in Ball and Aguilar that, solely because of her presence on private school property, a public employee will be presumed to inculcate religion in the students. Zobrest also implicitly repudiated another assumption on which Ball and Aguilar turned: that the presence of a public employee on private school property creates an impermissible "symbolic link" between government and religion.

JUSTICE SOUTER contends that Zobrest did not undermine the "presumption of inculcation" erected in Ball and Aguilar, and that our conclusion to the contrary rests on a "mistaken reading" of Zobrest. Post, at 248 (dissenting opinion). In his view, Zobrest held that the Establishment Clause tolerates the presence of public employees in sectarian schools "only... in... limited circumstances"-i. e., when the employee "simply translates for one student the material presented to the class for the benefit of all students." Post, at 249. The sign-language interpreter in Zobrest is unlike the remedial instructors in Ball and Aguilar because signing, JUSTICE SOUTER explains, "[cannot] be understood as an opportunity to inject religious content in what [is] supposed to be secular instruction." Post, at 248-249. He is thus able to conclude that Zobrest is distinguishable from-and therefore perfectly consistent with-Ball and Aguilar.

In Zobrest, however, we did not expressly or implicitly rely upon the basis JUSTICE SOUTER now advances for distinguishing Ball and Aguilar. If we had thought that signers had no "opportunity to inject religious content" into their translations, we would have had no reason to consult the record for evidence of inaccurate translations. 509 U. S., at 13. The signer in Zobrest had the same opportunity to inculcate religion in the performance of her duties as do Title I employees, and there is no genuine basis upon which to confine Zobrest's underlying rationale-that public employees will not be presumed to inculcate religion-to signlanguage interpreters. Indeed, even the Zobrest dissenters acknowledged the shift Zobrest effected in our Establishment Clause law when they criticized the majority for "stray[ing]... from the course set by nearly five decades of Establishment Clause jurisprudence." Id., at 24 (Blackmun, J., dissenting). Thus, it was Zobrest-and not this litigation-that created "fresh law." Post, at 249. Our refusal to limit Zobrest to its facts despite its rationale does not, in our view, amount to a "misreading" of precedent.

Second, we have departed from the rule relied on in Ball that all government aid that directly assists the educational function of religious schools is invalid. In Witters v. Washington Dept. of Servs.for Blind, 474 U. S. 481 (1986), we held that the Establishment Clause did not bar a State from issuing a vocational tuition grant to a blind person who wished to use the grant to attend a Christian college and become a pastor, missionary, or youth director. Even though the grant recipient clearly would use the money to obtain religious education, we observed that the tuition grants were "'made available generally without regard to the sectariannonsectarian, or public-nonpublic nature of the institution benefited.''' Id., at 487 (quoting Committee for Public Ed. & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U. S. 756, 782-783, n. 38 (1973)). The grants were disbursed directly to students, who then used the money to pay for tuition at the educational institution of their choice. In our view, this transaction was no different from a State's issuing a paycheck to one of its employees, knowing that the employee would donate part or all of the check to a religious institution. In both situations, any money that ultimately went to religious institutions did so "only as a result of the genuinely independent and private choices of" individuals. 474 U. S., at 487. The same logic applied in Zobrest, where we allowed the State to provide an interpreter, even though she would be a mouthpiece for religious instruction, because the IDEA's neutral eligibility criteria ensured that the interpreter's presence in a sectarian school was a "result of the private decision of individual parents" and "[could not] be attributed to state decisionmaking." 509 U. S., at 10 (emphasis added). Because the private school would not have provided an interpreter on its own, we also concluded that the aid in Zobrest did not indirectly finance religious education by "reliev[ing] [the] sectarian schoo[l] of costs [it] otherwise would have borne in educating [its] students." Id., at 12.

Zobrest and Witters make clear that, under current law, the Shared Time program in Ball and New York City's Title I program in Aguilar will not, as a matter of law, be deemed to have the effect of advancing religion through indoctrination. Indeed, each of the premises upon which we relied in Ball to reach a contrary conclusion is no longer valid. First, there is no reason to presume that, simply because she enters a parochial school classroom, a full-time public employee such as a Title I teacher will depart from her assigned duties and instructions and embark on religious indoctrination, any more than there was a reason in Zobrest to think an interpreter would inculcate religion by altering her translation of classroom lectures. Certainly, no evidence has ever shown that any New York City Title I instructor teaching on parochial school premises attempted to inculcate religion in stu dents. National Coalition for Public Ed. & Religious Liberty v. Harris, 489 F. Supp. 1248, 1262, 1267 (SDNY 1980); Felton v. Secretary, United States Dept. of Ed., 739 F. 2d, at 53, aff'd sub nom. Aguilar v. Felton, 473 U. S. 402 (1985). Thus, both our precedent and our experience require us to reject respondents' remarkable argument that we must presume Title I instructors to be "uncontrollable and sometimes very unprofessional." Tr. of Oral Arg. 39.

As discussed above, Zobrest also repudiates Ball's assumption that the presence of Title I teachers in parochial school classrooms will, without more, create the impression of a "symbolic union" between church and state. JUSTICE SOUTER maintains that Zobrest is not dispositive on this point because Aguilar's implicit conclusion that New York City's Title I program created a "symbolic union" rested on more than the presence of Title I employees on parochial school grounds. Post, at 250. To him, Title I continues to foster a "symbolic union" between the Board and sectarian schools because it mandates "the involvement of public teachers in the instruction provided within sectarian schools," ibid., and "fus[es] public and private faculties," post, at 254. JUSTICE SOUTER does not disavow the notion, uniformly adopted by lower courts, that Title I services may be provided to sectarian school students in off-campus locations, post, at 246-247, even though that notion necessarily presupposes that the danger of "symbolic union" evaporates once the services are provided off campus. Taking this view, the only difference between a constitutional program and an unconstitutional one is the location of the classroom, since the degree of cooperation between Title I instructors and parochial school faculty is the same no matter where the services are provided. We do not see any perceptible (let alone dispositive) difference in the degree of symbolic union between a student receiving remedial instruction in a classroom on his sectarian school's campus and one receiving instruction in a van parked just at the school's curbside. To draw this line based solely on the location of the public employee is neither "sensible" nor "sound," post, at 247, and the Court in Zobrest rejected it.

Nor under current law can we conclude that a program placing full-time public employees on parochial campuses to provide Title I instruction would impermissibly finance religious indoctrination. In all relevant respects, the provision of instructional services under Title I is indistinguishable from the provision of sign-language interpreters under the IDEA. Both programs make aid available only to eligible recipients. That aid is provided to students at whatever school they choose to attend. Although Title I instruction is provided to several students at once, whereas an interpreter provides translation to a single student, this distinction is not constitutionally significant. Moreover, as in Zobrest, Title I services are by law supplemental to the regular curricula. 34 CFR § 200. 12(a) (1996). These services do not, therefore, "reliev[e] sectarian schools of costs they otherwise would have borne in educating their students." 509 U. S., at 12.

JUSTICE SOUTER finds our conclusion that the IDEA and Title I programs are similar to be "puzzling," and points to three differences he perceives between the programs: (i) Title I services are distributed by LEA's "directly to the religious schools" instead of to individual students pursuant to a formal application process; (ii) Title I services "necessarily reliev[e] a religious school of 'an expense that it otherwise would have assumed'''; and (iii) Title I provides services to more students than did the programs in Witters and Zobrest. Post, at 251-252. None of these distinctions is meaningful. While it is true that individual students may not directly apply for Title I services, it does not follow from this premise that those services are distributed "directly to the religious schools," post, at 252. In fact, they are not. No Title I funds ever reach the coffers of religious schools, cf. Committee for Public Ed. and Religious Liberty v. Regan, 444 U. S. 646, 657-659 (1980) (involving a program giving "direct cash reimbursement" to religious schoo ls for performing certain state-mandated tasks), and Title I services may not be provided to religious schools on a schoolwide basis, 34 CFR § 200. 12(b) (1996). Title I funds are instead distributed to a public agency (an LEA) that dispenses services directly to the eligible students within its boundaries, no matter where they choose to attend school. 20 U. S. C. §§ 6311, 6312. Moreover, we fail to see how providing Title I services directly to eligible students results in a greater financing of religious indoctrination simply because those students are not first required to submit a formal application.

We are also not persuaded that Title I services supplant the remedial instruction and guidance counseling already provided in New York City's sectarian schools. Although JUSTICE SOUTER maintains that the sectarian schools provide such services and that those schools reduce those services once their students begin to receive Title I instruction, see post, at 244,246,251-252,254, his claims rest on speculation about the impossibility of drawing any line between supplemental and general education, see post, at 246, and not on any evidence in the record that the Board is in fact violating Title I regulations by providing services that supplant those offered in the sectarian schools. See 34 CFR § 200.12(a) (1996). We are unwilling to speculate that all sectarian schools provide remedial instruction and guidance counseling to their students, and are unwilling to presume that the Board would violate Title I regulations by continuing to provide Title I services to students who attend a sectarian school that has curtailed its remedial instruction program in response to Title 1. Nor are we willing to conclude that the constitutionality of an aid program depends on the number of sectarian school students who happen to receive the otherwise neutral aid. Zobrest did not turn on the fact that James Zobrest had, at the time of litigation, been the only child using a publicly funded sign-language interpreter to attend a parochial school. Accord, Mueller v. Allen, 463 u. S. 388, 401 (1983) ("We would be loath to adopt a rule grounding the constitutionality of a facially neutral law on annual reports reciting the extent to which various classes of private citizens claimed benefits under the law").

What is most fatal to the argument that New York City's Title I program directly subsidizes religion is that it applies with equal force when those services are provided off campus, and Aguilar implied that providing the services off campus is entirely consistent with the Establishment Clause. JUSTICE SOUTER resists the impulse to upset this implication, contending that it can be justified on the ground that Title I services are "less likely to supplant some of what would otherwise go on inside [the sectarian schools] and to subsidize what remains" when those services are offered off campus. Post, at 247. But JUSTICE SOUTER does not explain why a sectarian school would not have the same incentive to "make patently significant cutbacks" in its curriculum no matter where Title I services are offered, since the school would ostensibly be excused from having to provide the Title I-type services itself. See ibid. Because the incentive is the same either way, we find no logical basis upon which to conclude that Title I services are an impermissible subsidy of religion when offered on campus, but not when offered off campus. Accordingly, contrary to our conclusion in Aguilar, placing full-time employees on parochial school campuses does not as a matter of law have the impermissible effect of advancing religion through indoctrination.


Although we examined in Witters and Zobrest the criteria by which an aid program identifies its beneficiaries, we did so solely to assess whether any use of that aid to indoctrinate religion could be attributed to the State. A number of our Establishment Clause cases have found that the criteria used for identifying beneficiaries are relevant in a second respect, apart from enabling a court to evaluate whether the program subsidizes religion. Specifically, the criteria might themselves have the effect of advancing religion by creating a financial incentive to undertake religious indoctrination. Cf. Witters, 474 U. S., at 488 (upholding neutrally available program because it did not "creat[e a] financial incentive for students to undertake sectarian education"); Zobrest, supra, at 10 (upholding neutrally available IDEA aid because it "creates no financial incentive for parents to choose a sectarian school"); accord, post, at 253 (SOUTER, J., dissenting) ("[E]venhandedness is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for an aid program to satisfy constitutional scrutiny"). This incentive is not present, however, where the aid is allocated on the basis of neutral, secular criteria that neither favor nor disfavor religion, and is made available to both religious and secular beneficiaries on a nondiscriminatory basis. Under such circumstances, the aid is less likely to have the effect of advancing religion. See Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U. S. 263, 274 (1981) ("The provision of benefits to so broad a spectrum of groups is an important index of secular effect").

In Ball and Aguilar, the Court gave this consideration no weight. Before and since those decisions, we have sustained programs that provided aid to all eligible children regardless of where they attended school. See, e. g., Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1, 16-18 (1947) (sustaining local ordinance authorizing all parents to deduct from their state tax returns the costs of transporting their children to school on public buses); Board of Ed. of Central School Dist. No.1 v. Allen, 392 U. S. 236, 243-244 (1968) (sustaining New York law loaning secular textbooks to all children); Mueller v. Allen, supra, at 398-399 (sustaining Minnesota statute allowing all parents to deduct actual costs of tuition, textbooks, and transportation from state tax returns); Witters, supra, at 487-488 (sustaining Washington law granting all eligible blind persons vocational assistance); Zobrest, 509 U. S., at 10 (sustaining section of IDEA providing all "disabled" children with necessary aid). Applying this reasoning to New York City's Title I program, it is clear that Title I services are allocated on the basis of criteria that neither favor nor disfavor religion. 34 CFR § 200.10(b) (1996); see supra, at 209-210. The services are available to all children who meet the Act's eligibility requirements, no matter what their religious beliefs or where they go to school, 20 U. S. C. § 6312(c)(1)(F). The Board's program does not, therefore, give aid recipients any incentive to modify their religious beliefs or practices in order to obtain those services.


We turn now to Aguilar's conclusion that New York City's Title I program resulted in an excessive entanglement between church and state. Whether a government aid program results in such an entanglement has consistently been an aspect of our Establishment Clause analysis. We have considered entanglement both in the course of assessing whether an aid program has an impermissible effect of advancing religion, Walz v. Tax Comm'n of City of New York, 397 U. S. 664, 674 (1970), and as a factor separate and apart from "effect," Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S., at 612-613. Regardless of how we have characterized the issue, however, the factors we use to assess whether an entanglement is "excessive" are similar to the factors we use to examine "effect." That is, to assess entanglement, we have looked to "the character and purposes of the institutions that are benefited, the nature of the aid that the State provides, and the resulting relationship between the government and religious authority." Id., at 615. Similarly, we have assessed a law's "effect" by examining the character of the institutions benefited (e. g., whether the religious institutions were "predominantly religious"), see Meek, 421 U. S., at 363-364; cf. Hunt v. McNair, 413 U. S. 734, 743-744 (1973), and the nature of the aid that the State provided (e. g., whether it was neutral and nonideological), see Everson, supra, at 18; Wolman, 433 u. S., at 244. Indeed, in Lemon itself, the entanglement that the Court found "independently" to necessitate the program's invalidation also was found to have the effect of inhibiting religion. See, e. g., 403 U. S., at 620 ("[WJe cannot ignore here the danger that pervasive modern governmental power will ultimately intrude on religion... "). Thus, it is simplest to recognize why entanglement is significant and treat it-as we did in Walz-as an aspect of the inquiry into a statute's effect.

Not all entanglements, of course, have the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion. Interaction between church and state is inevitable, see 403 U. S., at 614, and we have always tolerated some level of involvement between the two. Entanglement must be "excessive" before it runs afoul of the Establishment Clause. See, e. g., Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U. S., at 615-617 (no excessive entanglement where government reviews the adolescent counseling program set up by the religious institutions that are grantees, reviews the materials used by such grantees, and monitors the program by periodic visits); Roemer v. Board of Public Works of Md., 426 U. S. 736, 764-765 (1976) (no excessive entanglement where State conducts annual audits to ensure that categorical state grants to religious colleges are not used to teach religion).

The pre-Aguilar Title I program does not result in an "excessive" entanglement that advances or inhibits religion. As discussed previously, the Court's finding of "excessive" entanglement in Aguilar rested on three grounds: (i) the program would require "pervasive monitoring by public authorities" to ensure that Title I employees did not inculcate religion; (ii) the program required "administrative cooperation" between the Board and parochial schools; and (iii) the program might increase the dangers of "political divisiveness." 473 U. S., at 413-414. Under our current understanding of the Establishment Clause, the last two considerations are insufficient by themselves to create an "excessive" entanglement. They are present no matter where Title I services are offered, and no court has held that Title I services cannot be offered off campus. Aguilar, supra (limiting holding to on-premises services); Walker v. San Francisco Unified School Dist., 46 F.3d 1449 (CA91995) (same); Pulido v. Cavazos, 934 F.2d 912, 919-920 (CA8 1991); Committee for Public Ed. & Religious Liberty v. Secretary, United States Dept. of Ed., 942 F. Supp. 842 (EDNY 1996) (same). Further, the assumption underlying the first consideration has been undermined. In Aguilar, the Court presumed that full-time public employees on parochial school grounds would be tempted to inculcate religion, despite the ethical standards they were required to uphold. Because of this risk pervasive monitoring would be required. But after Zobrest we no longer presume that public employees will inculcate religion simply because they happen to be in a sectarian environment. Since we have abandoned the assumption that properly instructed public employees will fail to discharge their duties faithfully, we must also discard the assumption that pervasive monitoring of Title I teachers is required. There is no suggestion in the record before us that unannounced monthly visits of public supervisors are insufficient to prevent or to detect inculcation of religion by public employees. Moreover, we have not found excessive entanglement in cases in which States imposed far more onerous burdens on religious institutions than the monitoring system at issue here. See Bowen, supra, at 615-617.

To summarize, New York City's Title I program does not run afoul of any of three primary criteria we currently use to evaluate whether government aid has the effect of advancing religion: It does not result in governmental indoctrination; define its recipients by reference to religion; or create an excessive entanglement. We therefore hold that a federally funded program providing supplemental, remedial instruction to disadvantaged children on a neutral basis is not invalid under the Establishment Clause when such instruc tion is given on the premises of sectarian schools by government employees pursuant to a program containing safeguards such as those present here. The same considerations that justify this holding require us to conclude that this carefully constrained program also cannot reasonably be viewed as an endorsement of religion. Accord, Witters, 474 U. S., at 488-489 ("[T]he mere circumstance that [an aid recipient] has chosen to use neutrally available state aid to help pay for [a] religious education [does not] confer any message of state endorsement of religion"); Bowen, supra, at 613-614 (finding no "'symbolic link'" when Congress made federal funds neutrally available for adolescent counseling). Accordingly, we must acknowledge that Aguilar, as well as the portion of Ball addressing Grand Rapids' Shared Time program, are no longer good law.


The doctrine of stare decisis does not preclude us from recognizing the change in our law and overruling Aguilar and those portions of Ball inconsistent with our more recent decisions. As we have often noted, "[s]tare decisis is not an inexorable command," Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U. S. 808, 828 (1991), but instead reflects a policy judgment that "in most matters it is more important that the applicable rule of law be settled than that it be settled right," Burnet v. Coronado Oil & Gas Co., 285 U. S. 393, 406 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting). That policy is at its weakest when we interpret the Constitution because our interpretation can be altered only by constitutional amendment or by overruling our prior decisions. Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U. S. 44, 63 (1996); Payne, supra, at 828; St. Joseph Stock Yards Co. v. United States, 298 U. S. 38, 94 (1936) (Stone and Cardozo, JJ., concurring in result) ("The doctrine of stare decisis... has only a limited application in the field of constitutional law"). Thus, we have held in several cases that stare decisis does not prevent us from overruling a previous decision where there has been a significant change in, or subsequent development of, our constitutional law. United States v. Gaudin, 515 U. S. 506, 521 (1995) (stare decisis may yield where a prior decision's "underpinnings [have been] eroded, by subsequent decisions of this Court"); Alabama v. Smith, 490 U. S. 794, 803 (1989) (noting that a "later development of... constitutionallaw" is a basis for overruling a decision); Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, 857 (1992) (observing that a decision is properly overruled where "development of constitutional law since the case was decided has implicitly or explicitly left [it] behind as a mere survivor of obsolete constitutional thinking"). As discussed above, our Establishment Clause jurisprudence has changed significantly since we decided Ball and Aguilar, so our decision to overturn those cases rests on far more than "a present doctrinal disposition to come out differently from the Court of [1985]." Casey, supra, at 864. We therefore overrule Ball and Aguilar to the extent those decisions are inconsistent with our current understanding of the Establishment Clause.

Nor does the "law of the case" doctrine place any additional constraints on our ability to overturn Aguilar. Under this doctrine, a court should not reopen issues decided in earlier stages of the same litigation. Messenger v. Anderson, 225 U. S. 436, 444 (1912). The doctrine does not apply if the court is "convinced that [its prior decision] is clearly erroneous and would work a manifest injustice." Arizona v. California, 460 U. S. 605, 618, n. 8 (1983). In light of our conclusion that Aguilar would be decided differently under our current Establishment Clause law, we think adherence to that decision would undoubtedly work a "manifest injustice," such that the law of the case doctrine does not apply. Accord, Davis v. United States, 417 U. S. 333, 342 (1974) (Court of Appeals erred in adhering to law of the case doctrine despite intervening Supreme Court precedent). IV

We therefore conclude that our Establishment Clause law has "significant[ly] change[d]" since we decided Aguilar. See Rufo, 502 U. S., at 384. We are only left to decide whether this change in law entitles petitioners to relief under Rule 60(b)(5). We conclude that it does. Our general practice is to apply the rule of law we announce in a case to the parties before us. Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/ American Express, Inc., 490 U. S. 477, 485 (1989) ("The general rule of long standing is that the law announced in the Court's decision controls the case at bar"). We adhere to this practice even when we overrule a case. In Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 515 U. S. 200 (1995), for example, the District Court and Court of Appeals rejected the argument that racial classifications in federal programs should be evaluated under strict scrutiny, relying upon our decision in Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC, 497 U. S. 547 (1990). When we granted certiorari and overruled Metro Broadcasting, we did not hesitate to vacate the judgments of the lower courts. In doing so, we necessarily concluded that those courts relied on a legal principle that had not withstood the test of time. 515 U. S., at 237-238. See also Hubbard v. United States, 514 U. S. 695, 715 (1995) (overruling decision relied upon by Court of Appeals and reversing the lower court's judgment that relied upon the overruled case).

We do not acknowledge, and we do not hold, that other courts should conclude our more recent cases have, by implication, overruled an earlier precedent. We reaffirm that "[i]f a precedent of this Court has direct application in a case, yet appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of decisions, the Court of Appeals should follow the case which directly controls, leaving to this Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions." Rodriguez de Quijas, supra, at 484. Adherence to this teaching by the District Court and Court of Appeals in this litigation does not insulate a legal principle on which they relied from our review to deter mine its continued vitality. The trial court acted within its discretion in entertaining the motion with supporting allegations, but it was also correct to recognize that the motion had to be denied unless and until this Court reinterpreted the binding precedent.

Respondents and JUSTICE GINSBURG urge us to adopt a different analysis because we are reviewing the District Court's denial of petitioners' Rule 60(b)(5) motion for an abuse of discretion. See Browder v. Director, Dept. of Corrections of Ill., 434 U. S. 257, 263, n. 7 (1978). It is true that the trial court has discretion, but the exercise of discretion cannot be permitted to stand if we find it rests upon a legal principle that can no longer be sustained. See Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U. S. 384,405 (1990). The standard of review we employ in this litigation does not therefore require us to depart from our general practice. See Adarand, supra; Hubbard, supra.

Respondents nevertheless contend that we should not grant Rule 60(b)(5) relief here, in spite of its propriety in other contexts. They contend that petitioners have used Rule 60(b)(5) in an unprecedented way-not as a means of recognizing changes in the law, but as a vehicle for effecting them. If we were to sanction this use of Rule 60(b)(5), respondents argue, we would encourage litigants to burden the federal courts with a deluge of Rule 60(b)(5) motions premised on nothing more than the claim that various judges or Justices have stated that the law has changed. See also post, at 260 (GINSBURG, J., dissenting) (contending that granting Rule 60(b)(5) relief in this litigation will encourage "invitations to reconsider old cases based on 'speculat[ions] on chances from changes in [the Court's membership]"). We think their fears are overstated. As we noted above, a judge's stated belief that a case should be overruled does not make it so. See supra, at 217.

Most importantly, our decision today is intimately tied to the context in which it arose. This litigation involves a party's request under Rule 60(b)(5) to vacate a continuing injunction entered some years ago in light of a bona fide, significant change in subsequent law. The clause of Rule 60(b)(5) that petitioners invoke applies by its terms only to "judgment[s] hav[ing] prospective application." Intervening developments in the law by themselves rarely constitute the extraordinary circumstances required for relief under Rule 60(b)(6), the only remaining avenue for relief on this basis from judgments lacking any prospective component. See 12 J. Moore et aI., Moore's Federal Practice § 60.48[5][b], p. 60-181 (3d ed. 1997) (collecting cases). Our decision will have no effect outside the context of ordinary civil litigation where the propriety of continuing prospective relief is at issue. Cf. Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288 (1989) (applying a more stringent standard for recognizing changes in the law and "new rules" in light of the "interests of comity" present in federal habeas corpus proceedings). Given that Rule 60(b)(5) specifically contemplates the grant of relief in the circumstances presented here, it can hardly be said that we have somehow warped the Rule into a means of "allowing an 'anytime' rehearing." See post, at 259 (GINSBURG, J., dissenting).

Respondents further contend that "[p]etitioners' [p]roposed [u]se of Rule 60(b) [w]ill [e]rode the [i]nstitutional [i]ntegrity of the Court." Brief for Respondents 26. Respondents do not explain how a proper application of Rule 60(b)(5) undermines our legitimacy. Instead, respondents focus on the harm occasioned if we were to overrule Aguilar. But as discussed above, we do no violence to the doctrine of stare decisis when we recognize bona fide changes in our decisional law. And in those circumstances, we do no violence to the legitimacy we derive from reliance on that doctrine. Casey, 505 U. S., at 865-866.

As a final matter, we see no reason to wait for a "better vehicle" in which to evaluate the impact of subsequent cases on Aguilar's continued vitality. To evaluate the Rule 60(b)(5) motion properly before us today in no way undermines "integrity in the interpretation of procedural rules" or signals any departure from "the responsive, non-agendasetting character of this Court." Post, at 260 (GINSBURG, J., dissenting). Indeed, under these circumstances, it would be particularly inequitable for us to bide our time waiting for another case to arise while the city of New York labors under a continuing injunction forcing it to spend millions of dollars on mobile instructional units and leased sites when it could instead be spending that money to give economically disadvantaged children a better chance at success in life by means of a program that is perfectly consistent with the Establishment Clause.

For these reasons, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the cases to the District Court with instructions to vacate its September 26, 1985, order.

It is so ordered.

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