Don't expect gloating from either side over the latest ruling in
the health care saga, announced over the weekend. In Bryant
v. Holder, District Judge Keith Starrett of the Southern District
of Mississippi ruled that the plaintiffs in Bryant v. Holder lack
"standing to sue."
MORE ON Health Care Legislation:
Garrett Epps: The Vinson Ruling and the Strange Nature of American Judicial Review
Andrew Cohen: Judge Vinson'e Health Care Smackdown
Chris Good: What if Only the Mandate Gets Repealed?
The opinion suggests that they may be able to cure the problem by rewriting their complaint. But it's worth taking look at the question of "standing." The Supreme Court could certainly use it to avoid making a decision on any of the pending lawsuits. Such a decision would not mean that the act would never face a constitutional test; it would merely delay it until there has been time for the heat its passage generated—the arrant nonsense about death panelists leering at Granny's bedside and Federal Broccoli Investigators raiding picnics—to recede.
Standing is the kind of angels-on-a-pin abstraction that not even constitutional lawyers can love. The idea arises from the fact that federal courts are courts of "limited jurisdiction." Article III of the Constitution extends their power to "cases and controversies," and provides a list of applicable cases, most either involving federal law or pitting plaintiffs in one state against defendants in another, or in another country.