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Standing (law)

In law, standing is the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged. For example, you cannot bring a suit challenging the constitutionality of a law unless you can demonstrate that you are (or will be) harmed by the law. Otherwise, the court will rule that you "lack standing" to bring the suit.

The standing limitation is based on the “status” of the person bringing the claim. Standing is a party’s right to make a legal claim. The Supreme Court has stated, “In essence the question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues.” Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975).

There are a number of judicially created requirements that a plaintiff must establish in order to have standing before the court. The Supreme Court has indicated that some are based on the case and controversy requirement of the judicial power as enumerated in the United States Constitution, Art. III, § 2, cl.1. As stated there, “The Judicial Power shall extend to all Cases . . .[and] to Controversies . . .” The requirement that a plaintiff have standing to sue is a limit on the role of the judiciary and the law of Article III standing is built on the idea of separation of powers. Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 752 (1984). Federal courts may exercise power only “in the last resort, and as a necessity.” Id. at 752.

There are three constitutional standing requirements:

  1. Injury: The plaintiff must have suffered or imminently will suffer injury. The injury must be actual, imminent, distinct, and palpable, not abstract. The injury must be within the zone of interests meant to be regulated or protected under the statutory or constitutional guarantee in question.
  2. Causation: The injury must be fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct.
  3. Redressability: A favorable court decision must be likely to redress the injury. If you sue and win, the court can make an order that will help you.

Additionally, there are two major prudential (judicially created) standing principles. Congress can override these principles via statute, but Congress cannot change the three constitutional standing requirements.

  1. Prohibition of Third Party Standing: A party may only assert his or her own rights and cannot raise the claims of a third party who is not before the court.
  2. Prohibition of Generalized Grievances: A plaintiff cannot sue as a taxpayer who shares a grievance in common with all other taxpayers.

In 1984, the Supreme Court reviewed and further outlined the standing requirements in Allen v. Wright, a major ruling concerning the meaning of the three constitutional standing requirements of injury, causation, and redressability. Id. In the suit, parents of black public school children alleged that the Internal Revenue Service was not enforcing standards and procedures that would deny tax-exempt status to racially discriminatory private schools. The Court found that the plaintiffs did not have the standing necessary to bring suit. Id. at 755. Although the Court established a significant injury for one of the claims, it found the causation of the injury (the nexus between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s injuries) to be too attenuated. Id. “The injury alleged is not fairly traceable to the Government conduct respondents challenge as unlawful.” Id. at 757.

In another major standing case, Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, the Supreme Court elaborated on the redressability requirement for standing. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992). The case involved a challenge to a rule promulgated by the Secretary of the Interior interpreting §7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). The rule rendered §7 of the ESA applicable only to actions within the United States or on the high seas. The Court found that the plaintiffs did not have the standing necessary to bring suit, because there was no injury had been established. Id. 562. The injury claimed by the plaintiffs was that damage would be caused to certain species of animals and that this in turn injures the plaintiffs by the reduced likelihood that the plaintiffs would see the species in the future. The court insisted though that the plaintiffs show how damage to the species would produce imminent injury to the plaintiffs. Id. at 564. The Court found that the plaintiffs did not sustain this burden of proof. “The ‘injury in fact’ test requires more than an injury to a cognizable interest. It requires that the party seeking review be himself among the injured.” Id. at 563.

Beyond failing to show injury, the Court found that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the standing requirement of redressability. Id. at 568. The Court pointed out that the respondents chose to challenge a more generalized level of Government action, “the invalidation of which would affect all overseas projects.” Id. This programmatic approach has “obvious difficulties insofar as proof of causation or redressability is concerned.” Id.

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