On June 17, 2021, the Supreme Court released a decision concerning California v. Texas. The case brought before the court was a challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This is the third time the ACA has appeared before the Supreme Court. In a 7-2 opinion, the justices dismissed the challenge due to a lack of standing. But what is standing? How is standing evaluated? The purpose of this article is to help you understand the principle of standing and how it relates to the latest Supreme Court decision.

Key Terms





Standing is the first aspect of a case the court must examine. The suing party must have standing for the case to move on. Standing guarantees the suing party has been harmed by the challenged statute. For instance, a barbershop could sue if they were harmed by a law. However, you would not be allowed to sue on behalf of the barbershop. This policy keeps the court’s docket from being spammed with cases where an individual was not harmed.

Standing is found by meeting these three requirements:

  1. The plaintiff must allege that he or she has suffered or imminently will suffer an injury.
  2. The injury is fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct.
  3. Finally, the plaintiff must allege that a favorable court decision is likely to redress the injury.

Meeting one of these items is not enough to find standing. All three requirements must be met for the case to be evaluated on its merits.


The law being challenged must have directly harmed or injured the individual bringing suit. We can learn how the court defines injury by examining Allen v. Wright.

As public schools were working to desegregate several private schools in several states had refused to do so. Despite this refusal, the IRS continued to offer these private schools tax-exempt status. Many parents within these school districts sought to challenge the tax-exempt status offered by the IRS.

Parents claimed they were injured in two ways:

  1. They were harmed by the government providing aid to discriminatory schools.
  2. The IRS harmed their children’s opportunity to receive a desegregated education.

The court denied these were judicially valid injuries. Why? The first premise was not truly an injury. The second premise failed to be traceable to the IRS.

The first injury failed because it was too broad and indirect. The children had not suffered any direct discriminatory action. During the arguments, the parents said they had not applied, nor would apply at any of the schools they challenged. Consequently, they were not directly harmed by the IRS policy. Additionally, if the courts had found standing for a case where the plaintiffs were not injured, anyone would be able to sue from anywhere. An individual in Hawaii would be able to challenge a policy in Vermont.

We learn from this case that an injury must directly affect an individual. Additionally, the injury cannot be hypothetical or too abstract.


Traceability simply means that the injury can be traced to the challenged conduct. Because injury, traceability, and redressability are so closely related, many cases seek to evaluate them together.

In Allen v. Wright, the court recognized that discrimination is a valid injury. However, the plaintiffs were unable to trace the injury back to the IRS. In other words, the plaintiffs were unable to prove that any discriminatory action occurred because the IRS maintained a tax-exempt status for the schools. The courts could have asked, “If we remove the tax-exempt status, would the schools stop discriminating based on race?” They felt that the schools would be able to continue functioning, even with the tax-exempt status removed. The next question to ask is, “What else could cause private schools to uphold segregationist principles?” If there is a valid answer, the injury may not be traceable back to the IRS.

Other cases such as Los Angeles v. Lyon, Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, and Clapper v. Amnesty dive more into traceability.


Finally, the plaintiff must allege that a favorable court decision is likely to redress the injury. Synonyms for redress could include resolve, remedy, or set right. Traceability is often correlated with redressability. If an injury is not traceable to the defendant, any action taken will not result in a remedy. 

California v. Texas

As mentioned previously, this is the third time the courts have examined the Constitutionality of the ACA. On one occasion, the courts examined the individual mandate clause. The clause requires states to provide public affordable health care or pay a penalty. The courts determined that the penalty was considered a tax. In 2017, Congress revisited the Act and set the penalty, or tax, to 0 dollars. Lawmakers in Texas argued this violated the Constitution because if there is no tax, then it is outside of Congress’s taxing and spending powers.

There is one main issue with this challenge, finding standing. If there is no penalty for not abiding by the Act, then there is injury. If there is no injury, there is no standing. Therefore, if there is no standing, the Supreme Court cannot examine the merits of the case.

Although the courts go deeper into why Texas was not able to find standing, we will not cover the issue any further here. To read the court’s opinion directly, click here.

Categories: Two Man Congress

Will Laursen

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