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Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife 504 U.S. 555 (1992)


The Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice antonin scalia, held that an environmental organization had no standing because its members lacked "injury in fact" as required under Article III of the Constitution. Defenders of Wildlife sued under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), which provides that "any person" may sue to enjoin a federal agency from violating the ESA. Plaintiff sought expansion of a U.S. Interior Department rule requiring federal agencies to consult with the Secretary of the Interior to ensure that development projects within the United States do not threaten endangered species. Plaintiff contended that the ESA also required such consultation for projects in foreign countries. Two projects that would have been included under the broader rule were located in Egypt and Sri Lanka. Two members of Defenders of Wildlife had previously visited those countries. Neither had current travel plans, but both intended to return and hoped to see endangered species on their return visits.

The "any person" standing provision of the ESA is based on a "private attorney general" concept under which private individuals are authorized to enforce statutes for the benefit of the general public. Private attorney general statutes have repeatedly been upheld by the Court.

As a practical matter, Lujan may not be very important. For example, Scalia's opinion distinguishes Lujan from a qui tam standing case in which a plaintiff acting as a private attorney general gets a cash bounty. Further, Justices anthony m. kennedy and david h. souter indicated that standing would have been proper if Defenders of Wildlife members had purchased airplane tickets or announced specific dates for future trips. As a theoretical matter, however, Lujan is a significant watershed. For the first time, the Court has held unconstitutional a grant of standing to a private person to enforce a federal statutory duty because that person does not satisfy the Court's understanding of injury in fact under Article III.

William A. Fletcher


Nichol, Gene R. 1993 Justice Scalia, Standing, and Public Law Litigation. Duke Law Journal 42:1141–1169.

Scalia, Antonin 1983 The Doctrine of Standing as an Essential Element of the Separation of Powers. Suffolk Law Review 17:881–899.

Sunstein, Cass R. 1992 What's Standing After Lujan? Of Citizen Suits, "Injuries," and Article III. Michigan Law Review 91:163–236.

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