Does History Defeat Standing Doctrine?

According to the Supreme Court, the Federal Constitution limits not only the types of matters that federal courts can adjudicate, but also the parties who can bring those matters before them. In particular, the Court has held that private citizens who have suffered no concrete private injury lack standing to ask federal courts to redress diffuse harms to the public at large. When such harms are justiciable at all, the proper party plaintiff is the public itself, represented by an authorized officer of the government. Although the Court claims historical support for these ideas, academic critics insist that the law of standing is a recent “invention” of federal judges. Indeed, it is frequently said that “[t]here was no doctrine of standing prior to the middle of the twentieth century.” According to this view, the forms of action did much of the work of standing, defining when a plaintiff had the type of injury that, together with the defendant’s breach of duty, would support a claim for relief. But judges did not otherwise inquire into standing; a court would deal with standing-related concerns simply by asking “whether the matter before it fit one of the recognized forms of action.” Only in the twentieth century, so the story goes, did a “distinctive body of standing doctrine” develop.