The degree to which the courts become converted into political forums depends not merely upon what issues they are permitted to address, but also upon when and at whose instance they are permitted to address them. As De Tocqueville observed:
“It will be seen . . . that by leaving it to private interest to censure the law, and by intimately uniting the trial of the law with the trial of an individual, legislation is protected from wanton assaults and from the daily aggressions of party spirit. The errors of the legislator are exposed only to meet a real want; and it is always a positive and appreciable fact that must serve as the basis of a prosecution.”
The great change that has occurred in the role of the courts in recent years results in part from their ability to address issues that were previously considered beyond their ken. But in at least equal measure, in my opinion, it results from the courts’ ability to address both new and old issues promptly at the behest of almost anyone who has an interest in the outcome. It is of no use to draw the courts into a public policy dispute after the battle is over, or after the enthusiasm that produced it has waned. The sine qua non for emergence of the courts as an equal partner with the executive and legislative branches in the formulation of public policy was the assurance of prompt access to the courts by those interested in conducting the debate. The full-time public interest law firm, as permanently in place as the full-time congressional lobby, became a widespread phenomenon only in the last few decades not because prior to that time the courts could not reach issues profoundly affecting public policy; but rather because prior to that time the ability to present those issues at will (to make “wanton assaults,” to use De Tocqueville’s pejorative characterization) was drastically circumscribed. The change has been effected by a number of means, including such apparently unrelated developments as narrowing the constitutionally permissible scope of laws against champerty and maintenance (so that the cause may now more readily seek a victim to represent), alteration in the doctrine of ripeness (so that suits once thought premature may now be brought at once), and–to return to the point–alteration in the doctrine of standing.
Antonin Scalia, The Doctrine of Standing as an Essential Element of the Separation of Powers, 17 Suffolk. Univ. L. Rev. 881, 892-93 (1983).