This answer to the Politics SE question What happens to lawsuits against US presidential administrations when the administration changes due to an election? has been well received and so I've accepted it. I don't fully understand what it says but it seems that the explanation I need is more of a point of law than of politics.

In its entirety:

The suit is going to be not against the individuals in the administration but the government as an entity so the lawsuit proceeds. However, the new administration may choose not to defend the lawsuit, in which case the court may allow another interested party to stand in defense of the lawsuit (which happened with some of the suits against the ACA that the Trump administration declined to defend).

and my comment there:

...I don't know what those mean or what actually happens as a consequence but perhaps those might be better taken up as new questions in Law SE? For example what actually happens if nobody "stands in defense" of this kind of lawsuit?

2 Answers 2


Governments are legal people - they can sue and be sued

The United States of America is a legal entity with a continues existence irrespective or who may be occupying various offices of government at any given time.

A defendant in a lawsuit may, but is not obliged to, defend that lawsuit. If they don't defend it then the plaintiff usually wins but they still must prove their case to the required burden of proof. Alternatively, a defendant may concede all or part of the plaintiff's case and then these items are not contested and are considered proved.

All governments have sovereign immunity which means that they can only be sued when they agree to be sued, however, such agreement is often written into legislation particularly when the issue is one of "rights".

A person who is neither plaintiff nor defendant but who has an interest in the case may apply to be an amicus curiae (literally: "friend of the court") and, if the court allows it, may submit evidence for or against the plaintiff's case.

  • I see, so if the government does not stand in defense, it should then comply with whatever the suit said they should do, otherwise... the judge puts the US government in jail for contempt? (goes to "what actually happens if...")
    – uhoh
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 8:23
  • 1
    @uhoh which is a new question
    – Dale M
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 8:28
  • I see, "If they don't defend it then the plaintiff usually wins" is the extent of what happens here. What happens next is a different thing altogether.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 8:31

In US judicial actions, a government official may be named "in official capacity." When the office changes hands, the new officer assumes the role of the old officer in the court action. See for example the case indexed on Wikipedia as Doe v. Gonzales, despite the fact that it was

originally filed as Doe v. Ashcroft, renamed Doe v. Gonzalez, and finally issued as Doe v. Mukasey

These changes in its name arose because John Ashcroft was succeeded as Attorney General by Alberto Gonzales, who was in turn succeeded by Michael Mukasey.

In the federal courts, at least, this happens automatically under Rule 25 of the Rules of Civil Procedure and Rule 43 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

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