St. Mary's Law Journal


Laveta Casdorph


The most effective response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s construction of Article III standards will be to revise citizen suit statutes to reaffirm its important role in giving the injured citizen a voice against the administrative state. With the rise of the administrative state in the late 1930s and 40s, the Court developed a conservative doctrine of standing to protect New Deal legislation from court-based attacks. As individual constitutional rights expanded, standing rules were liberalized, allowing litigants to challenge the actions and decisions of administrative agencies more easily. Congress passed numerous environmental statutes containing “citizen suit” provisions in the 1960s and 70s conferring standing on “any person” alleging violations of these statutes without Article III showings of personal injury, cause, and redressability. Citizen suit statutes bring a conflict between Congress’ power to confer jurisdiction on federal courts and the Court’s power to deny jurisdiction over claims that do not qualify under Article III criteria. Today’s Court believes restraints on standing are essential to maintain a separation of powers and to ensure federal courts remain within their constitutionally assigned limits. The present doctrine of standing requires a litigant to demonstrate standing to sue only if they meet the “case-or-controversy" requirements of Article III. To meet that requirement, a plaintiff must show that (1) they suffered an "injury in fact," (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant's conduct and is not due to some third party not before the court; and (3) the injury is likely to be redressed by a court's favorable judgment. These criteria effectively preempt Congress’ power to legislate broad grants of standing and places citizen suits in question. Congress should reevaluate whether citizen suit provisions are viable enforcement mechanisms and attempt to cure the perceived constitutional deficiencies identified by the Court.


St. Mary's University School of Law