Hollingsworth v. Perry

Following is the case brief for Hollingsworth v. Perry, United States Supreme Court, (2013)

Case summary for Hollingsworth v. Perry:

  • Following the legalization of same sex marriage in California, voters passed Proposition Eight which amended the definition of marriage back to between a man and woman.
  • Same sex couples, who wanted to marry, challenged the legislation bringing suit against state officials. In response, state officials decided not to defend the voter passed legislation.
  • Proponents of Proposition Eight, including Dennis Hollingsworth, defended the law in place of state officials. Both the standing of the proponents and the constitutionality of the law were challenged
  • The Court held that the Proponents lacked standing as they had no personal stake in the outcome. This was due to the the fact they were not officials who enforce the challenged law and as a result, their stake in the outcome amounted to a generalized grievance.

Hollingsworth v. Perry Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

The California Supreme Court held that banning same sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional under the state’s Equal Protection Clause. Through a referendum vote, Proposition Eight was passed, which limited the recognition of marriage to between a man and a woman. In response to challenges of the amendment, the state supreme court held the amendment was proper. Gay couples who wanted to marry challenged the law, bringing suit against the attorney general and governor. Both refused to defend the suit. The federal district court did allow proponents of the claim to defend Proposition Eight. The law was held unconstitutional. The proponents appealed the decision to the federal court of appeals. This action certified a question to the state Supreme Court whether the proponents had standing to bring the appeal. The state supreme court held the proponents had standing since the attorney general and governor did not defend the suit and in response, the federal court of appeals decided the proponents had standing to appeal. Moving forward, the federal court of appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. Other organizations such as Lambda Legal, NCLR and ACLU filed an amicus curiae brief for the preliminary hearing arguing that Proposition Eight should be struck down as unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause.

Procedural History:

After the federal court of appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment on the merits, the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

If the appropriate state official fails to defend the constitutionality of a state law in federal court, a private party does not have standing to defend the law.

Issue and Holding:

Whether a private party has standing to defend a claim in federal court, when the state official will not defend the claim? No.


The Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s judgment and remanded the case to the lower court with instructions to dismiss based on lack of jurisdiction.


The Constitution limits federal court jurisdiction to actual cases or controversies under Article III. Here, the proponents of the state law lack the authority to enforce the passed law. As a result, they have no standing to defend the Proposition Eight in federal court because they do not have any personal stake in the outcome.

In addition, Article III requires each litigant to have standing, which means that the party has suffered a particularized injury, have a personal stake in the outcome which is more than a mere general grievance.

The Court recognized that there are limited circumstances where a state may authorize an agent to defend state interests, but those circumstances are not present in the current case. Here, the proponents have no personal stake in the case that amounts to more than a general grievance they are not agents of the state.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Dissenting (Kennedy):

The Court is bound by the state supreme court’s authorization for the proponents to defend Proposition Eight. Under California law, the law clearly states that a proponent has the authority to intervene and defend the state when the responsible state officials do not.


Hollingsworth v. Perry helped establish Article III standing requirements. A live case and controversy must exist and the plaintiff must a an actual stake in the outcome more than a mere generalized grievance. This case also preserved the freedom to marry for same sex couples.

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