Academic journal article American University Law Review

Who's Standing in the District after Grayson V. At&t Corp.? the Applicability of the Case-or-Controversy Requirement in D.C. Courts

Academic journal article American University Law Review

Who's Standing in the District after Grayson V. At&t Corp.? the Applicability of the Case-or-Controversy Requirement in D.C. Courts

Article excerpt


In Grayson v. AT&T Corp. (Grayson II),1 the District of Columbia Court of Appeals sitting en banc held that a D.C. statute that purportedly granted individuals standing without suffering an injuryin- fact did not actually do so.2 The court rested on tenuous grounds and held as a matter of statutory interpretation and legislative history that the D.C. Council did not make explicit its intent to overrule years of the court's standing requirements.3 In doing so, the court avoided a clear opportunity to answer the question of whether the Article III case-or-controversy requirement applies in D.C. courts.

Long-established precedent holds that Article III standing requirements do not apply in state courts and courts of the territories.4 The local D.C. court system is an anomaly in the United States because it is intended to function as a state court system, but D.C.'s unique nature as a federal enclave implicates constitutional issues that do not encumber state courts.5 Section 11-705(b) of the D.C. Code appears to be an inconspicuous section governing the logistical administration of the D.C. Court of Appeals, but courts have interpreted its language that "[c]ases and controversies shall be heard and determined by divisions of the court"6 to statutorily incorporate Article III standing requirements into the D.C. courts. This Note addresses the question that the D.C. Court of Appeals avoided7: Does the D.C. Code statutorily incorporate Article III standing requirements?

Part I of this Note examines Congress's plenary power over D.C. and traces the creation of the modern-day D.C. court system as Article I courts. It then examines Congress's analogous power over the territories pursuant to Article IV, focusing on the power's plenary nature and Congress's extraordinary ability to legislate free from other constitutional restraints. Finally, Part I discusses Article III standing rules, which create federal courts of limited jurisdiction, and inconsistent jurisprudence regarding the applicability of standing requirements in D.C. courts. Part II examines the history of the Grayson cases and the D.C. Council's attempt to convey standing without injury-in-fact. After analyzing the legislative history of section 11-705(b), implications of the courts' nature as courts of general jurisdiction, and the policies behind Article III standing, this Note concludes that Congress did not statutorily incorporate the case-orcontroversy requirement.


A. Congressional Power over D.C.

Article I, section 8, clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress plenary power over the District of Columbia.8 This broad grant of power means that Congress serves the role of both state and federal government in D.C.9 This permits Congress to regulate conduct in D.C. that it could not regulate in the national arena and allows Congress to exercise police powers and act as a state legislature might.10 This includes the ability to establish a judicial system, provided that Congress does not violate any other constitutional limitation on its authority.11 Although Congress may act similarly to a state legislature, the Court has long held that D.C. is distinct from the states.12

Congress's power over D.C. is in many ways analogous to its power over the territories pursuant to Article IV.13 In American Insurance Co. v. 356 Bales of Cotton (Canter),14 Chief Justice Marshall held that territorial courts created pursuant to Congress's plenary power under Article IV were "legislative Courts" rather than "constitutional Courts" and thus did not exercise the judicial power of the United States, but could nonetheless exercise jurisdiction over matters enumerated in Article III.15 Because Congress acted pursuant to its Article IV powers to regulate the territories, these courts were not constrained by Article III and therefore could consist of judges lacking life tenure.16 In so ruling, Chief Justice Marshall focused on the unique nature of Congress's authority over the territories as the "combined powers of the general, and of a state government. …

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