Terminology of Civil Procedure: What is “standing” (and how is it expressed in Spanish?)

One of the major news items this weekend was the US Supreme Court’s order denying Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s motion to file a bill of complaint with the Court challenging the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. The Supreme Court’s ruling was short and sweet: “The State of Texas’ motion to file a bill of complaint is denied for lack of standing.”

But few reporting on this matter in Spain appeared to understand the concept of “standing:”

  • Using the terminology of criminal procedure, TV1 called the motion a denuncia and said that the Supreme Court had ruled that Tejas no está en posición de pedir que se anulen votos en otros Estados… .
  • Calling the motion a demanda, Antena 3 claimed that the Supreme Court declared that the plaintiff’s petition carece de fundamentos, despite the fact that the Court made no ruling on the merits;
  • Tele5 said that the Supreme Court desestimó la querella, likewise insinuating that there was a ruling on the merits, while also mixing the terminology of civil and criminal procedure;
  • LaSexta noted that the Supreme Court tumbó la demanda del Fiscal General de Tejas.
  • El País reported that the Court rechazó la demanda…,
  • while El Mundo indicated that it rechazó el recurso de Texas.
  • Both ABC and Público chose to translate the sole argument in the Supreme Court’s order, noting that Texas no ha demostrado un interés reconocible judicialmente sobre la manera en que otro Estado celebre sus elecciones.*
  • Europapress, like others, used the expression rechazó la demanda, and
  • once again, confusing this with a criminal proceeding, Agencia EFE said that the Supreme Court desestimó la querella.

As noted above, the State of Texas’ motion was denied for “lack of standing,” a concept that wasn’t accurately reflected in any of the Spanish news reports shown above. So what is “standing”? And more importantly for legal translators, how can the expression be rendered in Spanish?

In this context, “standing” (most often expressed in British English with the Latin phrase locus standi) is simply the “right to bring an action or challenge a decision” (Oxford Dictionary of Law). The corresponding concept in Spanish is legitimación, defined as la facultad de actuar en el proceso que tiene el titular de un derecho material concreto para ejercitarlo o defenderlo (Diccionario Jurídico Colex). So the US Supreme Court’s denial of plaintiffs’ motion for “lack of standing” means that it was rejected based on their falta de legitimación.

Related vocabulary that may be of interest to legal translators:

  • legitimación—standing to sue or be sued**
  • legitimación activa—plaintiff’s/claimant’s (E&W) standing; standing to sue
  • legitimación pasiva—defendant’s standing; standing to be sued
  • legitimación extraordinaria/indirecta—third-party standing
  • legitimación por sucesión procesal—standing acquired upon party substitution

View the State of Texas’ motion for leave to file a bill of complaint here

View the Supreme Court’s order denying the motion here

*“Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.”

**A distinction is often made between legitimación ad processum, general standing in the sense of having the capacity to sue or be sued (adults of sound mind, not under a disability, etc.) and legitimación ad causam or standing to sue or be sued in a specific proceeding brought before the court.

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