In Law, what is Standing?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

In law, standing, or locus standi is the ability for a plaintiff to bring proof that a current law does or will affect them negatively and substantially. The term is used when laws currently in operation are challenged. In order for a law to be successfully challenged, the person bringing the suit must be able to prove damages incurred by the law, and thus prove right to standing.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

From a 1975 Supreme Court Ruling, courts decide whether a law can be attacked through lawsuits and determine standing as “whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of the particular issues.”

In order to be able to prove standing the person suing must be able to fulfill several requirements. The person must be able to establish that he or she has suffered or will suffer injury as a result of the law. Injury incurred or imminent injury must be sufficient in order to merit standing.

Additionally, it must be established that the injury is directly caused by the law in question. Also, changing the law would mean redressing harms caused by the injury or preventing injuring. If changing the law would not redress such issues, then the case has no standing.

All three requirements must be met for a plaintiff to be given the right of standing and having the case heard by the courts. As well, the Supreme Court provides limitations on standing.

The three limitations imposed by the court are as follows:
1) The person can only stand for him or herself. The person standing cannot represent a third party who cannot be present in court.
2) Suing when damages affect many other people as well is not permissible.
3) Standing has to take place in the appropriate court (zone of interest), and the person standing must be within the area, again zone of interest, that is affected by the challenged law.

With such requirements and limitations, many who would like to prove standing before a law are unable to do so. Most of US law regarding standing has been further explained through cases where standing rights have been denied.

For example in the 1991 Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, a group of wildlife conservationists were determined not to have right to challenge actions of the US Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce because they could not prove themselves personally affected by the regulations. The court clarified that injury occurring must be imminent and concrete, and could not be hypothetical.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


SurfNturf-I heard about that case and I am glad that the it is going forward because that law does impact all of us negatively.

I think that standing measures are important because unlike the healthcare act many other cases brought forth are frivolous which is part of the reason that we pay more for things.

I really feel that there should be tort reform that limit damages and also allow the person bringing in the suit to be charged for the legal fees if they should lose.

This way cases would only be brought forth if they had legitimacy. This is what they do in Great Briton and they have cut down frivolous law suits dramatically. If we don’t develop some form of tort reform the only people that will truly profit are the lawyers bringing in the cases.


A recent case involving standing involved the huge healthcare litigation brought by multiple states regarding the unconstitutionality of the bill.

The states argued that this act violated the fourteenth amendment of the constitution with respect to the commerce clause.

The states felt that this legislation violated the commerce clause because forcing people to buy health insurance is a violation because the federal government cannot force anyone to buy anything and that this violation involves interstate commerce and only the states should decide if they would like to participate in this health care bill.

Well a federal judge in Virginia cited that there was significant standing on the merits of this case which was a direct victory for the opponents of the bill.

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