A jurisdictional requirement in federal court that a litigant have been injured or threatened with imminent injury by the governmental action of which he or she complains. Sometimes called “standing to sue.”
Unlike the other federal justiciability doctrines mootness, ripeness, political question, and the ban on advisory opinions standing focuses primarily on the party bringing an issue before the court and only secondarily on the issues the party seeks to adjudicate. To have standing, any litigant raising an issue in federal court must meet three constitutionally mandated requirements: injury, causation, and redressability. In addition, the Supreme Court has imposed nonconstitutional, or “prudential,” restrictions, prohibiting third-party claims and generalized grievances. Plaintiffs challenging agency action under a federal statute must satisfy a third prudential requirement: The rights they are attempting to vindicate must fall within the “zone of interests” protected by the statute. The so-called prudential requirements, not being constitutionally mandated, may be waived by Congress.
A variety of reasons have been articulated by the Court and by scholars for the standing requirements. By requiring that a plaintiff have a personal stake in the outcome of a case, standing was said in Baker v. Carr
As a jurisdictional requirement, standing cannot be waived by the parties; even when the defendant does not raise it, the court may do so sua sponte, or voluntarily, at any stage of the proceedings, even on appeal. If a decision is ultimately made against standing, the case is dismissed, even if the matter has already been decided on the merits by the trial court and has gone through one or two appeals.
The Court ruled that a plaintiff must “show he personally has suffered some actual or threatened injury” in Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State
No rule or defining principle exists to determine what kind of injury will satisfy standing. However, clearly injuries to common law (personal injury, contract, property), constitutional, and statutory rights are sufficient to confer standing. In addition, the court has recognized the fact or threat of criminal prosecution (Wisconsin v. Yoder, 1972), economic harm (Barlow v. Collins, 1970), and injury to aesthetic interests (Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 1972). Injuries that the court has held insufficient to afford standing include stigmatization by a governmental policy of granting tax-exempt status to private schools that discriminate on the basis of race (Allen v. Wright) and a threat to marital happiness because state abortion laws force a choice between refraining from normal sexual relations and endangering the wife’s health (Roe v. Wade, 1973).
Mere existence of an injury is not enough. A plaintiff must also show that the injury was caused by the governmental action of which he or she complained and is likely to be redressed by the requested relief. Originally treated as a single test in which one or the other must be proved in Warth v. Seldin
The legal rights and interests asserted must be those of the plaintiff, not those of a third person not a party to the lawsuit. In Warth v. Seldin, taxpayers of Rochester, New York, sought to challenge allegedly discriminatory zoning in the suburb of Penfield, alleging that they were injured by higher property-tax rates resulting from Rochester’s need to provide additional low-income housing. The Court refused to allow the Rochester taxpayers to assert the constitutional rights of low-income minorities allegedly excluded from Penfield.
Four well-established exceptions exist. First, a third-party claim will be allowed when the third party is unlikely to be able to sue or have an incentive to do so. In Griswold v. Connecticut
A fourth exception to the third-party rule is the overbreadth doctrine. In First Amendment cases, a litigant has been permitted to make a facial challenge to a statute even though the law, if narrowly construed, could constitutionally prohibit the litigant’s activity. Such a facial challenge is permitted when the law appears to be overly broad and thus possibly having a chilling effect on constitutionally protected activity. In Schad v. Borough of Mount Ephraim
The Court will ordinarily deny standing when a plaintiff’s only injury is as a taxpayer or citizen asserting an interest in having the government obey the law. In Frothingham v. Mellon
In cases where a claim is brought under a federal statute and the plaintiff is not directly subject to the contested regulatory action, the Court has established an additional requirement: that the right or interest the plaintiff is attempting to vindicate be within the zone of interests protected or regulated by the statute. The Court stated in Clarke v. Securities Industries Association
Standing is among the most analyzed and most criticized of judicial doctrines. The Court’s treatment of it over the years has been called incoherent, erratic, and bizarre. It has even been suggested that there should be no standing doctrine at all, that the question of standing is part of the merits of the litigant’s claim. Much of the problem stems from the Court’s inability to develop a consistent philosophy of standing and to relate it to a view of the proper role of the judiciary in a system of checks and balances and of the proper role of a national judiciary in a federal system. Although there is much to be said for the efforts of, particularly, the Burger Court (1969-1986) to respect the separation of powers and to avoid unnecessary judicial intervention in the affairs of the other branches of government, it should be recognized that an overly narrow view of standing will deny legitimate litigants their day in court.
Fairly detailed surveys of the standing doctrine may be found in the standard general treatises on U.S. constitutional law. A particularly comprehensive and useful example is the four-volume work by Ronald D. Rotunda and John E. Nowak, Treatise on Constitutional Law: Substance and Procedure (2d ed., Vol 1., St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing, 1992). A briefer review is available in Rotunda and Nowak’s one-volume edition, Constitutional Law (7th ed., St. Paul, Minn.: Thomson/West, 2004). Other reliable single-volume treatises include Erwin Chemerinsky’s Constitutional Law, Principles and Policies (New York: Aspen Law & Business, 1997) and Charles Alan Wright’s The Law of Federal Courts (St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing, 1994). Lawrence H. Tribe’s American Constitutional Law (3d ed., Mineola, N.Y.: Foundation Press, 2000) offers a somewhat different organizational perspective. Most of the serious analysis and criticism of the doctrine is to be found in the law reviews. Among the more interesting and influential commentaries is Antonin Scalia’s defense (before he became a Supreme Court justice) of a narrow concept of standing in “The Doctrine of Standing as an Essential Element of the Separation of Powers,” Suffolk Law Review 17 (1983), and two arguments for a broader approach, Mark Tushnet’s “The New Law of Standing, a Plea for Abandonment,” Cornell Law Review 62 (1977) and William Fletcher’s “The Structure of Standing,” Yale Law Journal 98 (1988). A wellreasoned critique of the ban on generalized grievances can be found in Donald Doernberg’s “We the People: John Locke, Collective Constitutional Rights, and Standing to Challenge Government Action,” California Law Review 73 (1985). A particularly interesting and creative proposal helped to shape the view of a generation of law students: Christopher D. Stone, “Should Trees Have Standing?--Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects,” Southern California Law Review 45 (1972).
Restrictions on court power
Separation of powers