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ArtIII.S2.C1.6.9.4 Generalized Grievances

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.

Finally, federal courts may refuse on prudential grounds to entertain “generalized grievances,” which are “abstract questions of wide public significance . . . pervasively shared and most appropriately addressed in the representative branches.” 1 Although the Court has at times characterized the bar on generalized grievances as prudential,2 in dicta in the 2014 case Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc. the Court stated that cases raising generalized grievances “are barred for constitutional reasons, not ‘prudential’ ones.” 3 The Court’s opinion in Lexmark thus casts doubt on the continued viability of the prudential standing doctrine—both because of the Court’s determination that the bar on generalized grievances is a constitutional (and not prudential) requirement and its rejection of the “zone of interests” test in favor of one aimed at determining whether the plaintiff’s claim falls within the scope of a statutory provision conferring a right of action.4

Despite uncertainty regarding the continuing viability of the prudential standing doctrine, the constitutional minimum requirements of standing remain one of the most important justiciability doctrines. The courts have consistently applied that doctrine to implement Article III’s limits on federal judicial power. Those limits require courts to decide actual “cases” or “controversies” rather than to render opinions on abstract questions better suited for resolution by the political branches of government.5

Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Ams. United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 474–75 (1982) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). See also Schlesinger v. Reservists Comm. to Stop the War, 418 U.S. 208, 220–21 (1974); United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166, 175 (1974). back
E.g., Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 (1975) ( “[T]he Court has held that when the asserted harm is a ‘generalized grievance’ shared in substantially equal measure by all or a large class of citizens, that harm alone normally does not warrant exercise of jurisdiction.” ). back
572 U.S. 118, 127 n.3 (2014). back
Id. back
Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750 (1984) ( “The [Article III] doctrine that requires a litigant to have ‘standing’ to invoke the power of a federal court is perhaps the most important of [the justiciability] doctrines.” ). back