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When A State Wants to Sue the United States

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posted on 2023-07-27, 18:36 authored by Ariana Taborga SierraAriana Taborga Sierra

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on why several Republican-led states are suing the Biden administration for forgiving student loans, citing that the loan forgiveness program would result in a reduction in their tax revenues. Throughout the majority of American history, there were seldom partisan legal actions initiated by states contesting federal programs. However, this situation shifted when the Supreme Court heard the case of Massachusetts v. EPA. Their decision in 2007 granted states more weight in determining their right to sue, resulting in an increased number of such lawsuits. Additionally, the growing partisan divide among state attorneys general has further accentuated this trend [1].

Relying on this single case, it held that states suing on behalf of the interests of their citizens deserves “special solicitude” when applying a “three-prong test of injury, causation, and redressability” [2]. Essentially, the decision in Massachusetts v. EPA created “special solicitude” for the Attorney General (AG), not merely for states, to litigate independently of other government officials, such as governors. Relaxed standing requirements for states mean fewer hurdles for policy-oriented litigation by the state AGs [3].

But the question remains whether or not states always have the grounds to sue the federal government. In recent years, there has been a noteworthy increase in partisan lawsuits that challenge federal actions, which have embroiled the judiciary in various political disputes and strengthened its authority [4]. These lawsuits are filed over many diverse matters “ranging from fuel emission to transgender rights, from the census to the border wall, from migratory birds to horse racing” [1].

The issue with the three-prong test is its ambiguity and loose framework, which allows states to frequently sue the federal government based on the indirect, downstream effects of federal policies. Despite their belief that President Biden’s program for student loan forgiveness is not legal, two law professors have filed a brief and urged the justices to dismiss the challenge from the states on the grounds of standing.

States ought not to have the exceptional legal authority to initiate lawsuits against the federal executive branch. Instead, they should be held to the same standards as private entities, which would lead to the dismissal of a majority of such lawsuits. Federal courts should not be utilized as open forums to contest policy disagreements between the states and national government [1]. This would serve as a means of diminishing the number of lawsuits, easing the burden on the courts, and preventing them from becoming embroiled in every political dispute related to the federal executive.

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This Article is brought to you for free and open access by the Juris Mentem Law Review. This article has been accepted for inclusion in the Juris Mentem Digital Collection. The Digital Collection is edited by Juris Mentem Staff but is not peer-reviewed by university faculty. For more information, visit: https://www.american.edu/spa/jlc/juris-mentem.cfm Questions can be directed to jurismentem@american.edu

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