Standing to Raise Federal Question

Standing or locus standi is the ability of a party to appear before a court to support his/her participation in the case.  The question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues.  The standing doctrine to invoke the U.S. Supreme Court’s review power is that the enforcement of a state court decision will deprive the complainant of a specific federal right.  A party seeking review must be affected by the state court’s decision.  Ordinarily, a litigant must assert his/her own legal rights and interests and cannot rest his/her claim on the legal rights or interests of third parties.  One cannot approach the court for review of another person’s grievance.  The person challenging the constitutionality of a provision in a statute has the burden of showing that s/he has been injured thereby.  It avails him/her nothing to point out that some other person might conceivably be discriminated against.  Before one can ask that a statute be declared unconstitutional, s/he must show that s/he has been injured.[i] By this judicial restraint one is precluded from challenging the constitutionality of state action by invoking the rights of others.  One can overcome this judicial restraint by showing that s/he is injured by the operation of a statute or by unconstitutional state action, even though the party may vindicate the rights of others in the process.

However, in some contractual relations, third party standing is found to be established.  Third party standing exists when enforcement of a restriction against a litigant prevents a third party from entering into a relationship with the litigant to which the third party has a legal entitlement.  A restriction upon the fees a lawyer may charge his client will deprive the lawyer’s potential client of the right to obtain legal representation falls squarely within this principle.[ii] Exception is also given to an association to claim the federal rights of association members, provided the members have standing.  Moreover, the interest which the association is trying to protect must be connected with the purpose of the association and individual participation must not be essential for the progress of trial.

One who invokes the power of the court to declare a statute unconstitutional must be able to show that the statute is invalid.  Additionally, the appellant must show that s/he has sustained or is in immediate danger of sustaining some direct injury resulting from its enforcement.  The appellant must also show that s/he suffers in some indefinite way in common with people generally.[iii] The U.S. Supreme Court can review a state court decision even when the state court has issued a judgment in a case in which plaintiffs had no standing to sue under the principles governing the federal courts, provided the judgment of the state court causes direct, specific, and concrete injury to the parties.

[i] Waller v. Commonwealth, 178 Va. 294 (Va. 1941)

[ii] In re Fee Agreement of Stanley, 9 Vet. App. 203 (Vet. App. 1996)

[iii] Hartman v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 1999 Minn. App. LEXIS 182 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 2, 1999)


Inside Standing to Raise Federal Question