When Can a State Sue the United States?

Cornell Law Review, Vol. 101, 2016

William & Mary Law School Legal Research Paper No. 09-328

50 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2015 Last revised: 23 Jun 2022

See all articles by Tara Leigh Grove

Tara Leigh Grove

University of Texas School of Law

Date Written: June 17, 2016


State suits against the federal government are on the rise. From Massachusetts’ challenge to federal environmental policy, to Oregon’s confrontation over physician-assisted suicide, to Texas’s suit over the Obama administration’s immigration program, States increasingly go to court to express their disagreement with federal policy. This Article offers a new theory of state standing that seeks to explain when a State may sue the United States. I argue that States have broad standing to sue the federal government to protect state law. Accordingly, a State may challenge federal statutes or regulations that preempt, or otherwise undermine the continued enforceability of, state law. But, contrary to many scholars and jurists, I contend that States do not have a special interest in overseeing the manner in which federal agencies implement federal law. The Supreme Court was therefore wrong to suggest that States deserve “special solicitude” in the standing analysis, when they seek to ensure that the federal executive abides by congressional mandates. States have special standing to protect federalism principles, not the constitutional separation of powers.

Keywords: standing, federalism, separation of powers, Take Care Clause, Article III

Suggested Citation

Grove, Tara Leigh, When Can a State Sue the United States? (June 17, 2016). Cornell Law Review, Vol. 101, 2016, William & Mary Law School Legal Research Paper No. 09-328, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2689162

Tara Leigh Grove (Contact Author)

University of Texas School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

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