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Hastings Law Journal

Authors

Mark Gabel

Abstract

Few scholars have questioned the common assumption that the generalized grievances doctrine is simply a prohibition on obtaining federal court standing based on one's status as a taxpayer or a citizen. This Note attempts to show that the current doctrine is actually somewhat broader than that, although the Supreme Court has refused to define its outer limits precisely.

This Note traces the history of the generalized grievances principle from its origins in the 1920s to today, arguing that the concept was not originally intended to be a stand-alone limitation on federal court standing. Rather, it was simply a facet of the general rule that only plaintiffs with cognizable injuries may sue. As the doctrine has developed, Supreme Court jurisprudence has diverged into two camps. The first, represented on today's Court by Justice Scalia, has attempted to employ the doctrine to deny standing to plaintiffs whose claims appear insufficiently personal. The other view, represented today by Justice Breyer, attempts to limit the doctrine's application whenever Congress clearly intended to create a cause of action.

The apparent victory of this second view has led to a generalized grievances rule whose contours and precise definition are unclear and subject to judicial manipulation. Nevertheless, the author asserts that so long as the federal courts properly apply the current doctrine, Justice Breyer's view is preferable to Justice Scalia's, since it better allows Congress to exercise its power to create enforceable causes of action without undue interference from the judicial branch.

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