What standing is required (if any) for an entity (person, corporation, state, etc.) to litigate against the election results (be national or local)?
Please bear in mind I am NOT a lawyer.
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What standing is required (if any) for an entity (person, corporation, state, etc.) to litigate against the election results (be national or local)?
Please bear in mind I am NOT a lawyer.
UPDATE: There is now a definitive answer.
This is a novel argument.
To my knowledge, this is the first time that any state has ever sought judicial relief arising from another state's election administration, so it is a case of first impression not directly governed by a factually similar precedent.
Thus, rather than being governed by a precedent that resolved the exact standing question presented, we must result to more general principles.
Because it is a novel argument, it is impossible to be completely sure how it will be resolved.
The General Rule
Standing requirements require that there be a particularized actual injury to a legally recognized interest of the person suing.
Standing is a subcomponent of subject matter jurisdiction. Standing is one of the things that must be present for a court to have subject matter jurisdiction.
Standing is evaluated with reference to the merits. It exists if there is a recognized legal theory which, if proven, there has been a particularized injury to the person bringing the claim.
Most standing cases involve legal claims for relief that it is clear that someone validly has and the question is whether this particular person can assert them. But a minority of standing cases involve the question of whether there is a recognized legal claim of the type asserted at all.
No one has standing to assert a non-justiciable claim (i.e. a claim beyond the jurisdiction of all courts), or a claim for relief for which the courts do not legally recognize a remedy (e.g. a claim for not being chosen by a particular person to marry). As a result, standing can overlap with the argument that someone has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Generalized Grievances Don't Impart Standing
Even if the law is perfectly clear that a law has been violated, that doesn't necessarily mean that anyone has standing to seek a remedy from a court for that violation of the law. To the extent that one has merely a generalized grievance shared in common with everyone (e.g. an interest in a correct outcome of a Presidential election, or a desire to have the government follow the law) that would not ordinarily suffice to establish standing.
Texas does not have an interest in the outcome of a Pennsylvania or Georgia Presidential election that is any different from the interest of a citizen of Texas or me, a citizen of Colorado. But citizens of a state other than the one in which the election was conducted who aren't candidates in that election clearly don't have standing to challenge the outcome of an election in another state.
If the Texas argument for standing is accepted, any voter in any state would have standing the contest the election results of every other state in every Presidential election (although not in the original jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court).
The Texas Argument For Standing
The Complaint argues for standing as follows in paragraph 18:
In a presidential election, “the impact of the votes cast in each State is affected by the votes cast for the various candidates in other States.” Anderson, 460 U.S. at 795. The constitutional failures of Defendant States injure Plaintiff States because “‘the right of suffrage can be denied by a debasement or dilution of the weight of a citizen’s vote just as effectively as by wholly prohibiting the free exercise of the franchise.’” Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 105 (2000) (quoting Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U. S. 533, 555 (1964)) (Bush II). In other words, Plaintiff State is acting to protect the interests of its respective citizens in the fair and constitutional conduct of elections used to appoint presidential electors.
The Bush v. Gore Precedent Doesn't Establish Standing Here
But Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 105 (2000) (quoting Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U. S. 533, 555 (1964)) (Bush II) relied upon in the Complaint is not on point. Indeed, Reynolds v. Sims (which established a one man, one vote principle for state and local legislative redistricting) expressly recognized that the federal constitution would be illegal if a parallel system like the electoral college or U.S. Senate were enacted at the state level, but declined to hold that the 14th Amendment invalidated this portion of the U.S. Constitution (in part, because a valid constitutional amendments can't alter the equal representation of a U.S. state in the U.S. Senate without its consent).
Bush v. Gore likewise was an intrastate election dispute alleging that the equal protection rights of voters in one part of a state were abridged by the voters in another part of the state having different election rules applied to them in a lawsuit between two candidates in the race who clearly did have standing (although not original jurisdiction standing in the U.S. Supreme Court, which is limited with other exceptions inapplicable here, to lawsuits between two states).
The Claim That Texas Has A Legally Cognizable And Justiciable Interest In The Overall Result Of A Presidential Election Is Unprecedented And Dubious
The Complaint's assertion that in a presidential election, the impact of the votes cast in each State is affected by the votes cast for the various candidates in other States, citing Anderson, is also problematic.
First of all isn't technically true. The United States has 51 elections for Presidential electors, it doesn't have a "Presidential election" of ordinary voters. Perhaps an elector has standing to assert vote dilution, but an elector voting in that election, or a candidate, but they are not U.S. states and as a result, they can't bring lawsuits in the U.S. Supreme Court's constitutional original jurisdiction.
In the same way, Texas can't sue Florida alleging that a U.S. Senate or U.S. House election in Florida was conducted incorrectly, because every U.S. Senate or U.S. House election impacts which party has a majority in that house of Congress. Instead, the Constitution, recognizing that the courts offered no national judicial election remedy to people outside a state with a disputed election, created a legislative one by vesting resolution of disputed Congressional elections in Congress, rather than the Courts. Hundreds of disputed Congressional elections have been adjudicated that way.
Indeed, the only case of a genuinely disputed Presidential election outcome, the election of 1876, which is the closest precedent, is one in which Congress, rather than the Courts resolved the dispute regarding the overall Presidential election result based upon allegations of irregularities in a particular state.
One of the leading U.S. Supreme Court bar members concurs with this analysis:
Texas has no legal right to claim that officials elsewhere didn't follow the rules set by their own legislatures. The United States doesn't have a national election for president. It has a series of state elections, and one state has no legal standing to challenge how another state conducts its elections any more than Texas could challenge how Georgia elects its senators, legal experts said.
"This case is hopeless. Texas has no right to bring a lawsuit over election procedures in other states," said SCOTUSblog publisher Tom Goldstein, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who argues frequently before the court.
Second of all, it is irrelevant. Anderson didn't authorize one state to sue another state over its administration of an election. Even if the outcome of elections in other states have a de facto impact on other states, this doesn't mean that Texas has a legally cognizable interest in how another state selects its electors which is reserved to the legislature of the other state under the constitution.
There are no precedents for one state having a legally recognized interest in the outcome of another state's election. It did not participate in the election as a voter or an administrator of that election or as a candidate. It doesn't even cast a vote for President in any case, the electors that it elected do that.
The votes of the Texas electors are not diluted by the existence of electors in other states beyond the status quo expectation with no wrongdoing. Texas gets the same number of electoral votes relative to the total number of votes cast, regardless of who the electors of four other states cast their votes supporting. There is no allegation that another state got too many electoral votes.
In contrast, Texas might have standing to sue if it was allocated just 12 electoral votes, when, the census results showed that it was actually entitled to 38 electoral votes. Being denied the right to cast the full number of electoral votes that Texas gets to cast probably is an actual injury and does not hinge on how another state administers its election of its Presidential electors.
Links to the briefs filed by each of the four defendant states found here further detail the standing analysis in addition to other arguments. For example, Michigan summarizes its standing argument as follows:
Texas lacks standing to bring its Electors Clause claim where its asserted injury is nothing more than a generalized grievance that the Clause was violated.
The standing section in the Georgia brief explains that:
Texas lacks Article III standing to pursue its claims. Texas alleges two types of injuries—a direct injury to the State and a supposed injury to its Electors, whom Texas seeks to represent in a parens patriae capacity. Neither is cognizable.
A. Texas argues that it has suffered a direct injury because “the States have a distinct interest in who is elected Vice President and thus who can cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate.” Mot. for TRO 14–15 (emphasis in original); see also id. at 15 (arguing that a “Plaintiff State suffers an Article III injury when another State violates federal law to affect the outcome of a presidential election”). Under governing precedent, that is not an injury in fact. A State—like any plaintiff—has standing only if it alleges an injury that is actual or imminent, concrete, and particularized. See Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016) (citing Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560); see also id. (injury in fact is the “[f]irst and foremost” of the standing elements) (quoting Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Env’t, 523 U.S. 83, 103 (1998)). But Texas has no cognizable interest specific to Texas in how the Vice President votes. Texas’s interest is in its own representation in the Senate; Georgia has not impaired that interest. Texas still has two Senators, and those Senators may represent Texas’s interests however they choose. Even by its own logic, Texas has suffered no injury.
In any event, Texas’s speculation that the Vice President may one day cast a tie-breaking vote is not a cognizable injury. . . . Indeed, certain Vice Presidents—Mr. Biden, for example—never cast a tie-breaking vote during their tenure. Texas’s alleged injury is not the type of imminent, concrete, or particularized injury that Article III demands. See Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA, 568 U.S. 398, 410 (2013) (a “threatened injury must be certainly impending to constitute injury in fact” (quoting Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 158 (1990))); id. (standing theory that “relies on a highly attenuated chain of possibilities does not satisfy the requirement that threatened injury must be certainly impending”).
Texas’s alleged injury is also not cognizable because it is a generalized grievance—the kind of injury “that is ‘plainly undifferentiated and common to all members of the public.’” Lance v. Coffman, 549 U.S. 437, 440– 41 (2007) (quoting United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166, 176–77 (1974)); id. (The only injury plaintiffs allege is that the law—specifically the Elections Clause—has not been followed. This injury is precisely the kind of undifferentiated, generalized grievance about the conduct of government that we have refused to countenance in the past.”); see also Gill v. Whitford, 138 S. Ct. 1916, 1923 (2018) (the alleged injury must be “distinct from a ‘generally available grievance about government’” (quoting Lance, 549 U.S. at 439)).
The injuries that Texas alleges on behalf of its citizens are injuries that would be common to not only every citizen of Texas, but also every citizen of every state. Cf. Lance, 549 U.S. at 440 (“To have standing . . . a plaintiff must have more than a general interest common to all members of the public.” (quoting Ex parte Levitt, 302 U.S. 633, 633 (1962))). And in all events, by Texas’s logic any State would have standing to pursue the alleged claims because every State purportedly “suffers an Article III injury when another State violates federal law to affect the outcome of a presidential election” (Mot. for TRO 15). So Texas’s injury is specific neither to its citizens nor to Texas as a State. An injury unique to no one is not an injury in fact.
Texas cites no case supporting its assertion that it has suffered an injury in fact. Texas cites Massachusetts v. Envtl. Prot. Agency for the proposition that “states seeking to protect their sovereign interests are ‘entitled to special solicitude in our standing analysis’” (Mot. for TRO 15 (citing 549 U.S. 497, 520 (2007)), but Texas strips that language of its context. The Court there explained that Massachusetts was entitled to “special solicitude” in the standing analysis because a State has a quasi-sovereign interest in “preserv[ing] its sovereign territory” and because Congress had afforded “a concomitant procedural right to challenge the rejection of its rulemaking petition as arbitrary and capricious.” Massachusetts, 549 U.S. at 519–20; see also Gov’t of Manitoba v. Bernhardt, 923 F.3d 173, 182 (D.C. Cir. 2019) (explaining context of the Court’s reasoning). Neither thing is true here. In any case, Massachusetts involved a State’s loss of coastal property from rising sea levels, which is nothing like Texas’s alleged injury (a speculative tie-breaking vote by the Vice President). Texas has not alleged a direct injury in fact.
B. Nor does Texas have standing to raise claims for its electors in a parens patriae capacity (cf. Mot. for TRO 15). A State may sue parens patriae only if it proves that it has Article III standing (see, e.g., Bernhardt, 923 F.3d at 178), which Texas hasn’t done. But even if it had, Texas would lack parens patriae standing because that concept applies only when a State seeks to vindicate the interests of more than a discrete and identifiable subset of its citizens (most often in the health and welfare contexts). See, e.g., Alfred L. Snapp & Son, Inc. v. Puerto Rico, 458 U.S. 592, 607 (1982) (“[M]ore must be alleged than injury to an identifiable group of individual residents . . .”); Pennsylvania v. New Jersey, 426 U.S. at 665 (a State may not sue parens patriae when it is “merely litigating as a volunteer the personal claims of its citizens”). Here, Texas purports to represent the interests of only thirty-eight people (its Electors).
But Texas’s problems run even deeper. This Court has explained that “[o]ne helpful indication in determining whether an alleged injury to the health and welfare of its citizens suffices to give the State standing to sue as parens patriae is whether the injury is one that the State, if it could, would likely attempt to address through its sovereign lawmaking powers.” Alfred L. Snapp & Son, 458 U.S. at 607; see also Bernhardt, 923 F.3d at 178 (same). That is not the case here. Under our federalist system, Texas could never “address through its sovereign lawmaking powers” how another State elects its Electors. Texas lacks parens patriae standing.
C. Texas also lacks standing because it asserts the rights of third parties. A plaintiff generally “cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties” unless the plaintiff establishes (1) a “close” relationship with the third party and (2) a “hindrance” preventing the third party from asserting her own rights. Kowalski v. Tesmer, 543 U.S. 125, 129–30 (2004). Otherwise, the plaintiff fails to present a “particularized” injury. See Spokeo, 136 S. Ct. at 1548; see also Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 502 (1975) (“Petitioners must allege and show that they personally have been injured, not that injury has been suffered by other, unidentified members of the class to which they belong and which they purport to represent.”). . . . The Eleventh Amendment bars Texas citizens from bringing such claims against Georgia in federal court, so Texas cannot circumvent that bar when asserting such individual rights in a parens patria capacity. See Georgia v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 324 U.S. 439, 465 (1945) (“By reason of the Eleventh Amendment the derivative or attenuated injuries of that sort are not enough for standing. See, e.g., Hollingsworth v. Perry, 570 U.S. 693, 708 (2013) (“It is, however, a ‘fundamental restriction on our authority’ that ‘[i]n the ordinary course, a litigant must assert his or her own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest a claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties.’” (quoting Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 410 (1991)).
The Pennsylvania opposition brief's section on standing explains that:
Article III, Section 2 of the United States Constitution limits the jurisdiction of the federal courts to resolving “cases” and “controversies.” U.S. CONST. art. III, § 2; Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 818 (1997). That same jurisdictional limitation applies to actions sought to be commenced in the Court’s original jurisdiction. Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 735-36 (1981). To establish standing, the demanding party must establish a “triad of injury in fact, causation, and redressability.” Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 103 (1998). More specifically, that the plaintiff has suffered injury to a legally protected interest, which injury is “fairly traceable to the challenged action and redressable by a favorable ruling.” AIRC, 576 U.S. at 800; see also Maryland, 451 U.S. at 736.
This Court has “always insisted on strict compliance with this jurisdictional standing requirement.” Raines, 521 U.S. at 819. For invocation of the Court’s original jurisdiction, this burden is even greater: “[t]he threatened invasion of rights must be of serious magnitude and it must be established by clear and convincing evidence.” People of the State of N.Y. v. New Jersey, 256 U.S. 296, 309 (1921). Texas fails to carry this heavy burden.
First, Texas cannot establish it suffered an injury in fact. An injury in fact requires a plaintiff to show the “invasion of a legally protected interest”; that the injury is both “concrete and particularized”; and that the injury is “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1548 (2016). According to Texas, the alleged violations of Pennsylvania’s Election Code undermined the authority granted to the Pennsylvania General Assembly under the Electors Clause.8 Motion at 3, 10-11, 13-15. But as the text of the Electors Clause itself makes clear, the injury caused by the alleged usurpation of the General Assembly’s constitutional authority belongs to that institution. AIRC, 576 U.S. at 800 (legislature claimed that it was stripped of its responsibility for redistricting vested in it by the Elections Clause). The State of Texas is not the Pennsylvania General Assembly. See Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, __ U.S. __, 139 S.Ct. 1945, 1953 (2019) (noting the “mismatch between the body seeking to litigate [the Virginia House of Delegates] and the body to which the relevant constitutional provision allegedly assigned exclusive redistricting authority [the General Assembly]”).
Second, Texas’s claimed injury is not fairly traceable to a violation of the Electors Clause. As discussed above, each of Texas’s allegations of violations of Pennsylvania law has been rejected by state and federal courts.
Third, Texas fares no better in relying on parens patriae for standing. It is settled law that “a State has standing to sue only when its sovereign or quasi-sovereign interests are implicated and it is not merely litigating as a volunteer the personal claims of its citizens.” Pennsylvania, 426 U.S. at 665. The state, thus, must “articulate an interest apart from the interests of particular private parties.” Alfred L. Snapp & Son, Inc. v. Puerto Rico, ex rel., Baez, 458 U.S. 592, 607 (1982).
In other words, “the State must be more than a nominal party.” Ibid. That, however, is exactly what Texas is here. Texas seeks to “assert parens patriae standing for [its] citizens who are Presidential Electors.” Motion at 15. Even if, as Texas claims, the presidential electors its citizens have selected suffered a purported injury akin to the personal injury allegedly sustained by the 20-legislator bloc in Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433, 438 (1939), which they did not, that does not somehow metastasize into a claim by the state rather than those presidential electors. The 20-person bloc of legislatures in Coleman sued in their own right without the involvement of the State of Kansas. Ibid. Texas has no sovereign or quasi-sovereign interest at stake. It is a nominal party, at best.
8 In its motion, Texas disclaims a “voting-rights injury as a State” based on either the Equal Protection or Due Process Clauses. Motion at 14. Rather, Texas claims that its legally protected interest arises from “the structure of the Constitution” creating a federalist system of government. Ibid. As discussed infra, to the extent Texas relies on the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, those “Clauses protect people, not States.” Pennsylvania, 426 U.S. at 665.
Wisconsin's standing arguments are as follows:
At a minimum, to invoke this Court’s original jurisdiction, Texas must demonstrate that it has “suffered a wrong through the action of the other State.” Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 735–36 (1981). But Texas is unable to allege that Wisconsin itself did anything to directly injure Texas’s sovereign interests. Instead, Texas advances a far more attenuated theory of injury—that the other States’ supposed violations of their elections laws “debased the votes of citizens” in Texas. Mot. for P/I at 3. This speculative logic is not nearly enough to carry Texas’s burden to prove, by “clear and convincing evidence,” a “threatened invasion of [its] rights” “of serious magnitude,” New York, 256 U.S. at 309. Indeed, Texas’s allegations fall far short of what would be required by Article III in any federal case—that is, a showing that a plaintiff has “(1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant[s], and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016).
It is well settled under the Court’s original jurisdiction cases that “a State has standing to sue only when its sovereign or quasi-sovereign interests are implicated and it is not merely litigating as a volunteer the personal claims of its citizens.” Pennsylvania v. New Jersey, 426 U.S. 660, 665 (1976).
Apart from attempting to rely on the “personal claims of its citizens” as electors or voters, Texas struggles to identify any traditional sovereign injury to support its claim under the Electors Clause. Instead, Texas proposes that this Court recognize a new “form of voting-rights injury”—an injury premised on the denial of “‘equal suffrage in the Senate’” somehow caused by the election of the Vice President. Mot. for Prelim. Inj. at 14 (quoting U.S.Const. art. V, cl. 3).
Texas makes no freestanding constitutional claim to this effect. In any event, this argument makes no sense. Texas does not (and cannot) argue that it now has fewer Senators than any other state. By definition, therefore, it maintains “equal suffrage in the Senate.”
Texas’s attempt to garner standing for its claims under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses fares no better. These “Clauses protect people, not States.” Pennsylvania, 426 U.S. at 665.
If Texas’s theory of injury were accepted, it would be too easy to reframe virtually any election or voting rights dispute as implicating injuries to a States and thereby invoke this Court’s original jurisdiction. New York or California could sue Texas or Alabama in this Court over their felon-disenfranchisement policies. . . . .
This case does not satisfy the direct-injury requirement. Texas speculates that Wisconsin’s facilitation of mail-in voting during the pandemic may have increased the likelihood that third parties would engage in instances of voter fraud in Wisconsin. Texas does not offer a shred of evidence that any such fraud occurred. And Texas does not allege that Wisconsin directed or authorized any individual to engage in voter fraud. Nor would any such allegation be plausible.
In any event, this Court long made clear that its original jurisdiction does not extend to “political disputes between states arising out of [the alleged] maladministration of state laws by officials to the injury of citizens of another state.” Stephen M. Shapiro, et al, Supreme Court Practice 10-6 (11th ed. 2019); see Louisiana v. Texas, 176 U.S. 1, 15 (1900)) (“Jurisdiction over controversies of that sort does not embrace the determination of political questions, and, where no controversy exists between states, it is not for this Court to restrain the governor of a state in the discharge of his executive functions in a matter lawfully confided to his discretion and judgment.”). It is hard to imagine a case that more clearly runs afoul of that principle than a dispute over the outcome of the presidential election, premised on the alleged maladministration of state election law.
The question of first impression concerning whether a state has a legally cognizable interest in the administration of an election in another state needs to be evaluated in the context of the U.S. Constitution as a whole.
The Constitution says a fair amount about election administration and disputed elections that in context disfavors the notion that one state has a legally cognizable interest in how another state administers an election administration.
All federal elections in the United States (outside the District of Columbia) are administered by the states and by the local governments and agencies created by the states. State election laws must conform to federal requirements, and candidates participating in elections or voters in that state have standing in many cases to litigate whether those state and federal laws were conformed to by state election administrators. Each election of electors is separate and prior to 1852, Presidential elections weren't even held on the same day even though the Congress had the authority to mandate a single Presidential election date.
The process of determining a total outcome of the election by aggregating state electoral college votes is vested in Congress by the constitution, not in the judicial branch, and so there can be no legally cognizable interest in this non-justiciable issue. Therefore, not only does Texas lack standing to bring this suit on the theory asserted that Texas is injured by an aggregation of electoral votes including votes allegedly made by improperly certified electors. No one has standing to do so in any court of law.
The complaint asserts thst:
- This Court has original and exclusive jurisdiction over this action because it is a “controvers[y] between two or more States” under Article III, § 2, cl. 2 of the U.S. Constitution and 28 U.S.C. § 1251(a) (2018).
- In a presidential election, “the impact of the votes cast in each State is affected by the votes cast for the various candidates in other States.” Anderson, 460 U.S. at 795. The constitutional failures of Defendant States injure Plaintiff States because “‘the right of suffrage can be denied by a debasement or dilution of the weight of a citizen’s vote just as effectively as by wholly prohibiting the free exercise of the franchise.’” Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 105 (2000) (quoting Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U. S. 533, 555 (1964)) (Bush II). In other words, Plaintiff State is acting to protect the interests of its respective citizens in the fair and constitutional conduct of elections used to appoint presidential electors.
The suit goes on to say
Moreover, redressability likely would undermine a suit against a single state officer or State because no one State’s electoral votes will make a difference in the election outcome. This action against multiple State defendants is the only adequate remedy for Plaintiff States, and this Court is the only court that can accommodate such a suit.
This seems to assert that improper procedure would injure Texas by causing an incorrect outcome, and therefore asserts standing. I don't know of a case closely on point.
The issue has now been settled. The Court has rejected the Bill of Complaint for lack of standing. See the answer by @ohwilleke for a full quote of the court order dismissing the case.