What is Legal "Standing"? A Brief Overview

by LegalFix
Posted: April 10, 2024
Civil litigation

In the realm of legal battles and courtroom dramas, certain terms recurrently pop up, often leaving people outside of the legal profession puzzled. One such term is "standing". If you've ever wondered why some people can sue over a particular matter while others can't, you've touched the tip of the legal standing iceberg. Let's dive deeper into this legal concept, its significance, and its frequent appearance in high-profile cases. 

What is Legal Standing?

In legal parlance, "standing" refers to the right of a party to bring a lawsuit in court based on their stake in the outcome. To possess standing, a person must demonstrate that they have suffered (or are in imminent danger of suffering) a direct, concrete injury as a result of the action or inaction being challenged. This injury must be distinguishable from the general public and must be something the court can address or redress. 

Examples of Standing:

  • Environmental Cases: Suppose a new construction project threatens a specific wetland, and a local resident who regularly visits that wetland sues, arguing it would harm their recreational use. Here, the resident likely has standing due to a direct impact on their personal interests.

  • Consumer Rights: If a customer buys a product that turns out to be defective and suffers an injury, they have standing to sue the manufacturer. However, someone who merely saw the product but didn't purchase or use it would not.

  • Taxpayer Standing: While taxpayers generally can't sue the government over how their tax dollars are spent (since their injury isn't distinct from the public), some exceptions exist. For instance, a taxpayer might challenge governmental actions that violate specific constitutional provisions, like the Establishment Clause.

Standing in the News

In high-profile cases, the issue of standing is often hotly debated. Let’s take a look at three instances where the legal standing of the parties involved has taken on a prominent role. 

  • LGBTQ Rights: Before the landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, which legalized same-sex marriage across the US, there were questions about whether certain parties had the standing to challenge (or defend) state bans on same-sex marriage. 

  • Healthcare: In multiple challenges to the Affordable Care Act, standing has been a contested issue, with parties needing to demonstrate they were directly harmed by the law. 

  • Election Disputes: Post-election lawsuits often raise questions of standing. Only parties with a direct stake in the outcome, beyond a general interest in a particular candidate winning, generally have the right to challenge the results. 

Navigating Legal Standing

Standing serves as a gatekeeper, ensuring that courts only address genuine disputes where parties have a real stake in the outcome. It avoids the judicial system being bogged down by hypothetical or abstract claims.

If you find yourself wondering whether you have the legal right to challenge a particular action or decision, it's crucial to understand standing. Given its intricate nature and its role in high-profile cases, consulting an attorney familiar with the nuances of standing in your jurisdiction becomes indispensable. Access to affordable legal advice from an attorney in your state ensures that you're well-equipped to navigate this foundational legal principle and make good legal decisions.

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