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Standing Back from the Forest: Justiciability and Social Choice

Maxwell L. Stearns
California Law Review
Vol. 83, No. 6 (Dec., 1995), pp. 1309-1413
DOI: 10.2307/3480872
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3480872
Page Count: 105
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Standing Back from the Forest: Justiciability and Social Choice
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Abstract

In this Article, Professor Stearns employs the theory of social choice to present a comprehensive analysis of standing and the closely related doctrine of stare decisis. Professor Stearns begins by demonstrating that the Supreme Court, along with all appellate courts, is subject to a phenomenon referred to in the social choice literature as cycling, in which for any proposed outcome in a given case or across cases, an alternative exists that has majority support. Professor Stearns then demonstrates that stare decisis is the social choice equivalent of a prohibition on motions for reconsideration of defeated alternatives, a common cycle-prevention technique, and that stare decisis presumptively prevents Supreme Court justices from taking the requisite number of pairwise contests over time and across cases to reveal cyclical preferences. In turn, stare decisis enhances the stability of Supreme Court case law. While stare decisis improves the rationality of Supreme Court decisionmaking, it also produces an unintended and deleterious byproduct. With stare decisis in place, the evolution of Supreme Court doctrine will depend, to a large extent, upon the order in which cases are presented or, in the language of social choice, will be "path dependent." Stare decisis thus provides interest groups with strong incentives to manipulate the order in which cases are brought before the Supreme Court and lower federal courts. Professor Stearns further demonstrates that the standing cases, which can be restated as a set of three substantive legal rules-no right to enforce the rights of others, no right to prevent diffuse harms, and no right to an undistorted market-substantially ameliorate the problem that stare decisis creates. These standing ground rules do so by presumptively preventing ideological litigants from opportunistically manipulating the critically important path of case decisions in the Supreme Court and in lower federal courts. Professor Stearns then links the standing rules to the Arrovian fairness criteria, which are grounded in the majoritarian norm, concluding that while stare decisis improves the Supreme Court's overall rationality, standing improves the Court's overall fairness. Professor Stearns further provides a social choice explanation, consistent with his thesis on standing, for the Supreme Court's power of docket control and for adherence to stare decisis within, but not among, federal circuit courts. In the companion article, Standing and Social Choice: Historical Evidence, 144 U. Pa. L. Rev. 309 (1995), which the final part of this Article previews, Professor Stearns provides comprehensive historical and case support to demonstrate that the thesis set out in this Article is more robust than are alternative theories of standing, including political explanations. He also demonstrates the manner in which the functions that the standing doctrine has served have changed over time. Professor Stearns posits that the liberal New Deal Court conceived and employed standing to discipline conservative lower federal courts, rather than to prevent itself from addressing the merits of challenges to New Deal initiatives, as is commonly believed. He then demonstrates that the later, more conservative, Burger and Rehnquist Courts were uniquely multipeaked. As a result, those Courts transformed standing from its New Deal roots into the substantive set of ground rules described above in an effort to render ideological path manipulation more difficult.

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