Thursday, December 10, 2020
SCOTUS Decision on Article III Standing: Carney v. Adams
Today the Supreme Court issued a unanimous (8-0) decision in Carney v. Adams, covered earlier here. Justice Breyer’s opinion begins:
This case concerns a Delaware constitutional provision that requires that appointments to Delaware’s major courts reflect a partisan balance. Delaware’s Constitution states that no more than a bare majority of members of any of its five major courts may belong to any one political party. Art. IV, §3. It also requires, with respect to three of those courts, that the remaining members belong to “the other major political party.” Ibid.
The plaintiff, a Delaware lawyer, brought this lawsuit in federal court. He claimed that Delaware’s party-membership requirements for its judiciary violate the Federal Constitution. We agreed to consider the constitutional question, but only if the plaintiff has standing to raise that question. We now hold that he does not.
The Court’s analysis looks closely at the summary judgment record, including Adams’ answers to interrogatories and deposition testimony, noting that “[t]his is a highly fact-specific case.” It ultimately concludes that “the record evidence fails to show that, at the time he commenced the lawsuit, Adams was ‘able and ready’ to apply for a judgeship in the reasonably foreseeable future.” He therefore “failed to show that ‘personal,’ ‘concrete,’ and ‘imminent’ injury upon which our standing precedents insist.”
Justice Sotomayor authors a concurring opinion. Although she agrees that Adams lacked standing, she observes that the constitutional challenge to Delaware’s system “will likely be raised again.” Accordingly, she briefly identifies “two important considerations” relevant to such a challenge, including the difficulty in determining whether Delaware’s major party and bare majority requirements are severable from one another. On severability, Justice Sotomayor suggests that federal courts may be “well advised to consider certifying such a question to the State’s highest court.”