In an earlier post, I wrote about how the Texas anti-abortion law, by authorizing anyone at all to bring a lawsuit against anyone who aids someone in getting an abortion, has greatly expanded the legal notion of ‘standing’, that only those who have suffered a direct injury can seek redress from the courts. This is a reasonable requirement since otherwise the courts could be clogged with people bringing lawsuits on any and all matters whether or not they are at all affected by it.
The need for standing is not explicitly mentioned in the US constitution but over the past century, the US Supreme Court has read that requirement into Article III.
Over the last century, the Supreme Court has also established a system for determining when a person has standing to bring a claim in federal court. While the rules regarding standing do not appear in the Constitution, the Supreme Court based them on the authority granted by Article III of the Constitution and federal statutes.
“Standing” is the legal right for a particular person to bring a claim in court. A plaintiff must establish that they meet the legal criteria for standing. This generally involves demonstrating an injury and a direct connection to the defendant. If, for example, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident with the defendant, and the plaintiff alleges that the defendant was responsible for the accident, they most likely have standing to sue. Federal courts have developed their own rules for lawsuits that involve questions of federal or constitutional law.
But this applies only to federal courts and state courts can make their own determination of what constitutes standing and the Texas legislature has with this law, in the specific case of abortion, thrown the doors wide open to anyone to sue, and even encourages them by promising a reward of $10,000 if they win and stacking the law so that the plaintiff is very likely to win.
What is not clear to me is what happens if many people seek to sue the doctor or any other person accused of assisting an abortion in any way, however minor. Whose case will be taken up by the courts? Will all the plaintiffs be bundled together in one lawsuit? Does that mean that they have to split the bounty? What if supporters of abortion decide to sue and simply return the money to the defendant if they win? Since the bar for what constitutes an offense is so low under this law and the plaintiff can recover legal costs, there will be plenty of lawyers who will jump at the opportunity to find clients on whose behalf to file a lawsuit. One can envisage a scramble for be the plaintiff in any case, like a pack of hungry wolves competing to see who gets to devour a carcass.
This is the problem with bounties and deputizing anyone to act to claim it. It encourages bad faith lawsuits and vigilantism of the worst kind. The doctor who has dared abortion opponents to to sue by publicly announcing that he did an abortion after the law was passed is clearly seeking to challenge the law and perhaps expose all the unintended consequences. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
The doctor has taken a grave risk in challenging this law. Anti-abortion zealots, those good religious people, have murdered abortion providers in the past and you can be sure that at the very least he and his family will be severely harassed.