Federal Election Commission v. Akins
Federal Election Commission v. Akins, 524 U.S. 11 (1998), was a United States Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 case deciding that an individual could sue for a violation of a federal law pursuant to a statute
A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a state, city, or county. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. The word is often used to distinguish law made by legislative bodies from case law, decided by courts, and regulations...

 enacted by the U.S. Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 which created a general right to access certain information
Information in its most restricted technical sense is a message or collection of messages that consists of an ordered sequence of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as...



The plaintiff
A plaintiff , also known as a claimant or complainant, is the term used in some jurisdictions for the party who initiates a lawsuit before a court...

s were registered voters who had asked the defendant
A defendant or defender is any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute...

 Federal Elections Commission ("FEC") to determine that an organization
An organization is a social group which distributes tasks for a collective goal. The word itself is derived from the Greek word organon, itself derived from the better-known word ergon - as we know `organ` - and it means a compartment for a particular job.There are a variety of legal types of...

 called the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
American Israel Public Affairs Committee
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is a lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies to the Congress and Executive Branch of the United States...

 ("AIPAC") was a "political committee" subject to certain regulations and reporting requirements under the Federal Election Campaign Act
Federal Election Campaign Act
The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 is a United States federal law which increased disclosure of contributions for federal campaigns. It was amended in 1974 to place legal limits on the campaign contributions...

, because AIPAC had crossed certain spending thresholds. The FEC determined that AIPAC had indeed crossed those thresholds, but still did not require it to make the required reports because the organization was issue-oriented, not campaign-related. The plaintiffs sought review in the District Court, which granted summary judgment for the FEC; this ruling was affirmed by a panel of the Court of Appeals, but the Court of Appeals en banc reversed. The government sought certiorari, and challenged the plaintiff's standing on the grounds that the plaintiffs had suffered no 'injury in fact'; that if the plaintiffs had any injury it was not fairly traceable to the FEC decision; and that a decision in favor of the plaintiffs would not redress their injury.

Opinion of the Court

The Court, in an opinion by Justice Breyer, held that Congress has, by statute, allowed "any party aggrieved by an order of the Commission" to file a suit, which is a broad grant; not getting the requested information is an "injury in fact" just like the denial of any other information which is statutorily required to be provided to citizens by the government. The grievance is a "generalized grievance," but the harm is concrete enough to overcome this, and the harm is fairly traceable to the FEC – even though the FEC may find other grounds not to make AIPAC provide the info. ("[W]here a harm is concrete, though widely shared, the Court has found 'injury in fact.'" Federal Election Commission v. Akins 524 U.S. 11, 24 (1998))

The Court distinguished this case from lawsuit
A lawsuit or "suit in law" is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant's actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff's complaint...

s where an individual seeks relief based on mere taxpayer standing - an insufficient ground for standing to sue. It instead employed a "zone of interests test," asking whether the injury asserted fell into the zone of interests protected by the statute.

The case was remanded to the FEC to review its definition of 'members.'


Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion asserting that the fact the statute differentiated between 'any person' (in defining the class of persons who could file a complaint with the FEC over a violation) and 'any party aggrieved' (in defining the class of persons who could bring suit in federal court over the FEC's decision on the complaint) demonstrated the limiting force of the latter provision—anyone could file a complaint with the FEC if they believed a violation had occurred, but only parties who had actually been aggrieved (suffered a particularized injury) as a result of the FEC's decision on the complaint could sue.

See also

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