Current Issue

Volume 79, Number 2

May 2004

Modeling Standing

Nancy Staudt

Standing doctrine serves the important function of ensuring that plaintiffs are the proper parties to bring suits in federal courts, but it has long been the subject of criticism. Scholars have labeled it an incoherent and unstable area of the law and declared that standing decisions are primarily influenced by the political ideologies of judges. Several existing empirical studies have analyzed standing in the federal courts and supported the claim that standing decisions are rooted primarily in individual politics and not legal doctrine. Spurred by this widespread criticism as well as the empirical support, several well-known scholars have proposed reforms of the standing doctrine in an effort to hinder political decisionmaking or at least to bring more candor to the decisionmaking process.

In this Article, Professor Nancy Staudt undertakes rigorous empirical analyses to test the underlying claim that all standing decisions are politically motivated. Improving upon the prior standing studies that have a range of limitations and possible flaws, Professor Staudt’s study focuses on standing decisions in one area of the law-taxpayer challenges to government spending-and analyzes the results up and down the federal judicial hierarchy. Using statistical models, she finds that judges render law-abiding and predictable decisions where clear precedent and effective judicial oversight exist; where these variables are absent, however, standing decisions are more likely to be based on judges’ personal ideologies. Professor Staudt then applies her findings to the proposed standing reforms and determines that they address some of the problems in the standing doctrine but ignore the importance of the judicial hierarchy. The reform proposals, she argues, are destined to fail unless they consider institutional factors such as the level of oversight and monitoring in the judicial hierarchy.