ArtIII.S2.C1.6.6.2 Associational Standing

Article III, Section 2, Clause 1:

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State, between Citizens of different States,—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

Perhaps the most obvious context in which the Supreme Court confronts issues of representational standing is when a formal association sues to redress injury to its members. In the past, associations seeking relief in federal court have included environmental groups,1 unions (i.e., associations of workers),2 and trade associations (i.e., associations of businesses).3 While an organization may have standing to sue on its own behalf when it sustains an injury as an organization (e.g., a loss of membership),4 the Supreme Court held in Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Commission, that an association has standing to sue to redress its members’ injuries, even when the association has not itself suffered injury, when: “(a) its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; (b) the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization’s purpose; and (c) neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit.” 5

In subsequent decisions, the Supreme Court has elaborated on the three prongs of the Hunt test. The first two prongs of this three-part test reflect Lujan's constitutional minimum requirements, assuring that the association possesses a genuine stake in the controversy and that the lawsuit involves a contest between adversarial parties.6 Therefore, Congress may not waive these requirements through the enactment of legislation. However, the third requirement for associational standing is a prudential limitation, focusing on “administrative convenience and efficiency,” that Congress may modify or eliminate in certain contexts.7 Applying the third prong, the Court has found that associations lack standing when, for example, it would be too difficult to establish individualized proof of injury for each member of an association that seeks monetary damages on behalf of its members8 or when resolving an association’s claims would require the Court to ascertain each member’s individual views on a particular matter.9 Nonetheless, Congress may override judicial concerns about the difficulty in establishing individualized proof for each member of an association if the association satisfies the first two elements of the Hunt test.10

E.g., Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 563 (1992); Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 731 (1972). back
E.g., Int’l Union v. Brock, 477 U.S. 274, 276 (1986). back
E.g., Hunt v. Wash. State Apple Advert. Comm’n, 432 U.S. 333, 344–45 (1977) (determining that a state agency that represents an industry of the state and acts like a trade association but with compelled membership may have standing to sue for its members’ injuries). back
Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 511 (1975). back
United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 571 v. Brown Grp., Inc., 517 U.S. 544, 553 (1996) (quoting Hunt, 432 U.S. at 343). See also Brock, 477 U.S. at 282–90 (applying the three-part test and determining that an automobile workers union had associational standing to challenge a Department of Labor policy directive interpreting the trade readjustment allowance (TRA) benefit eligibility provisions of the Trade Act of 1974). Some argue that an association is able to more effectively advance the shared interests of its members by pooling financial resources and expertise. Id. at 290 ( “[T]he primary reason people join an organization is often to create an effective vehicle for vindicating interests that they share with others.” ). back
United Food & Commercial Workers, 517 U.S. at 554–57. back
Id. back
See Brock, 477 U.S. at 287 ( “Neither these claims nor the relief sought required the District Court to consider the individual circumstances of any aggrieved UAW member. The suit raises a pure question of law: whether the Secretary properly interpreted the Trade Act’s TRA eligibility provisions. And the relief requested, and granted by the District Court, leaves any questions regarding the eligibility of individual TRA claimants to the state authorities given jurisdiction over such questions by [the Trade Act of 1974].” ) (citations omitted). But see Warth, 422 U.S. at 515–16 (finding that an association of construction firms lacked standing to seek damages for lost profits and business because “whatever injury may have been suffered is peculiar to the individual member concerned, and both the fact and extent of injury would require individualized proof” ). back
Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, 321 (1980) (finding that the women’s division of a religious organization lacked standing to assert the rights of its members under the Free Exercise Clause because the Court needed to ascertain each member’s individual views as to the “permissibility, advisability, and/or necessity of abortion” in order to rule upon the organization’s constitutional claims). Because individuals in the organization could have diverse views on the issue of abortion, inquiring into each member’s individual views was “necessary in a free exercise case [in order] to show the coercive effect of the enactment as it operates against [an individual] in the practice of his religion.” Id. back
United Food & Commercial Workers, 517 U.S. at 554–57. back