U.S. Const. art. III confines the judicial power of federal courts to deciding actual “cases” or “controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. One essential aspect of this requirement is that any person invoking the power of a federal court must demonstrate standing to do so. This requires the litigant to prove that he has suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct, and is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. In other words, for a federal court to have authority under the Constitution to settle a dispute, the party before it must seek a remedy for a personal and tangible harm. The presence of a disagreement, however sharp and acrimonious it may be, is insufficient by itself to meet U.S. Const. art. III’s requirements.
Proposition 8 provided that only marriage between a man and a woman was valid or recognized in California. Same-sex couples who wished to marry, named state and local officials as defendants and filed suit alleging that Proposition 8 violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The officials refused to defend Proposition 8. Proponents of the initiative, however, were allowed to intervene. The district court declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The officials did not appeal the decision. Instead, the proponents did. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8. In response to a certified question, the California Supreme Court stated that official proponents of an initiative were authorized under California law to appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative when public officials declined to do so. Based on that response, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the proponents had standing under federal law to appeal.
Did the proponents have standing to appeal the case?
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the proponents lacked standing under U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. The proponents had no direct stake in the outcome of their appeal. Their only interest was to vindicate the constitutional validity of a generally applicable California law, which was insufficient to confer standing. The role that California law gave the proponents in the initiative process did not give them a personal stake in defending its enforcement that differed from the general interest of every California citizen.