Case Details


Attorney General Control Of Litigation

Filing State



U.S. Supreme Court




Hollingsworth v. Perry, 570 U. S. ____ (2013)


Private parties do not have standing to appeal decision finding state ballot initiatitve unconstitutional if state attorney general or other state officer do not appeal.

Case Description

California voters passed Proposition 8, a state initiative to ban gay marriage. The initiative was challenged in federal court as unconstitutional. The initiative was struck down by the district court and the attorney general and governor declined to appeal the decision. The California supreme court held that the proponents of the initiative could appeal. The federal court of appeals also struck down the statute and the proponents appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. The Court held that the proponents did not have standing to pursue the appeal because the proponents did not suffer any individualized harm, Although the state has a “cognizable interest in the continued enforceability of its laws” and in order to vindicate that interest, the state “must be able to designate agents to represent it in federal court,” that agent is typically the attorney general or another state official. The proponents could not act as agents for the state here because “An essential element of agency is the principal’s right to control the agent’s actions.” [citations omitted] Yet petitioners answer to no one; they decide for themselves, with no review, what arguments to make and how to make them. Unlike California’s attorney general, they are not elected at regular intervals—or elected at all. . . . No provision provides for their removal.” The Court concluded, “we have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen no to. We decline to do so for the first time here.”