Hollingsworth v. Perry

570 U.S. 693 (2013)

Quick Summary

California’s Proposition 8 where two same-sex couples (plaintiffs) challenged an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The state officials declined to defend the amendment, leading proponents of Proposition 8 (petitioners) to step in.

The issue presented to the Supreme Court was whether these proponents had legal standing to appeal after the District Court ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The Supreme Court concluded that petitioners lacked standing, leading to a dismissal of their appeal and leaving the lower court’s decision intact.

Facts of the Case

In 2008, the California Supreme Court declared that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was unconstitutional under the state constitution. In response, California voters passed Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to define marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman.

This amendment was challenged in federal court by two same-sex couples (plaintiffs) who wished to marry. The named defendants, which included the Governor and other state officials, declined to defend the law. Consequently, the official proponents of Proposition 8 (petitioners) were permitted to intervene and defend the amendment.

The District Court found Proposition 8 unconstitutional and issued an injunction preventing its enforcement. The state officials did not appeal this decision, but the intervenors did. Their appeal raised questions about their legal standing to defend the proposition in place of the state officials. The case eventually reached the United States Supreme Court after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s ruling.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. The California Supreme Court ruled that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional under the state constitution.
  2. Proposition 8 was passed, amending the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
  3. Two same-sex couples filed a suit in federal court against Proposition 8.
  4. State officials refused to defend Proposition 8, and the District Court allowed Proposition 8 proponents to intervene.
  5. The District Court ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional.
  6. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, and the proponents of Proposition 8 appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether the proponents of California’s Proposition 8 had legal standing to appeal the federal court decision that deemed the proposition unconstitutional when state officials elected not to appeal.

Rule of Law

To have standing in federal court, a party must demonstrate a personal, concrete, and particularized injury that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct and likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court held that petitioners lacked standing to appeal since they had not suffered any concrete and particularized injury. The Court stated that once Proposition 8 was passed, it became part of the state constitution, leaving petitioners with no specific role in its enforcement.

Their interest was solely a general one shared by all citizens of California, which is insufficient for Article III standing. The Court emphasized that federal courts can only adjudicate actual cases or controversies where parties have a direct stake in the outcome.

The Court rejected petitioners’ assertion that they could stand in for the state’s interest, clarifying that such representation is typically not permissible unless the litigant has suffered a direct injury themselves. The decision underscored the principle that parties cannot simply claim a generalized grievance about government action to establish standing in federal court.


The United States Supreme Court concluded that petitioners did not have standing to appeal the District Court’s decision invalidating Proposition 8. As a result, the Ninth Circuit’s decision affirming the District Court was vacated and the case was remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Dissenting Opinions

Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor, dissented, arguing that the majority’s standing analysis was too narrow and that petitioners should be allowed to defend Proposition 8 because they were authorized by California law to do so.

Key Takeaways

  1. A party must demonstrate a concrete and particularized injury for standing in federal court.
  2. Generalized grievances shared by all citizens do not confer standing.
  3. The Supreme Court will not adjudicate cases where litigants lack a direct stake in the outcome.
  4. State authorization does not necessarily provide federal standing to private parties.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What constitutes a particularized injury sufficient for federal court standing?

A particularized injury is one that affects an individual in a personal and distinct way, not merely as a member of the public affected by government action. It must directly impact the plaintiff’s own legal rights or interests.

  • For example: If a new zoning regulation limits housing development and a homeowner can prove that their property value has decreased as a direct result, this specific financial harm could constitute a particularized injury.

How does state authorization of private party action relate to federal court standing?

State authorization allows a private party to act on behalf of the state, but it does not automatically confer federal standing. For federal court, the party must still meet the constitutional requirements of standing, including suffering an injury in fact that is concrete and particularized.

  • For example: A state may authorize citizens to sue polluters for violating environmental laws. However, to have federal standing, an individual must show they suffered personal harm from the pollution, not just that they are concerned about the environment in general.

Can a generalized grievance provide standing in federal court?

A generalized grievance that affects the population at large typically does not provide standing in federal court. A litigant must demonstrate a specific, personal stake in the outcome that differentiates them from the general public.

  • For example: Being a taxpayer dissatisfied with how tax dollars are spent does not grant standing unless the challenge is to an expenditure that violates specific constitutional protections against such spending.


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