In this case, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico seeks to bring suit in its capacity as parens patriae against petitioners for their alleged violations of federal law. Puerto Rico contends that those violations discriminated against Puerto Ricans and injured the Puerto Rican economy. The question presented here is whether Puerto Rico has standing to maintain this suit.
The factual background of this case involves the interaction of two federal statutes, the Wagner-Peyser Act, 48 Stat. 113, 29 U. S. C. § 49 et seq., and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 66 Stat. 163, as amended, 8 U. S. C. § 1101 et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp. IV). The Wagner-Peyser Act was passed in 1933 in order to deal with the massive problem of unemployment resulting from the Depression. The Act establishes the United States Employment Service within the Department of Labor "[i]n order to promote the establishment and maintenance of a national system of public employment offices." 29 U. S. C. § 49. State agencies, which have been approved by the Secretary of Labor, are authorized to participate in the nationwide employment service.
Some of petitioners' obligations under the employment system established by the Wagner-Peyser Act stem from the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, insofar as it regulates the admission of nonimmigrant aliens into the United States. The latter Act authorizes the admission of temporary foreign workers into the United States only "if unemployed persons capable of performing such service or labor cannot be found in this country." 8 U. S. C. § 1101(a)(15) (H)(ii). The Attorney General is charged with determining whether entry of foreign workers would meet this standard, "upon petition of the importing employer." 8 U. S. C. § 1184(c). He is to make this determination "after consultation with appropriate agencies of the Government." Ibid. The Attorney General has delegated this responsibility to the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization, 8 CFR § 2.1 (1982), who, in turn, relies on the Secretary of Labor for the initial determinations. 8 CFR § 214.2(h)(3) (1982).
Any employer who wants to employ temporary foreign agricultural laborers must first seek domestic laborers for the openings through use of the interstate clearance system.
The obvious point of this somewhat complicated statutory and regulatory framework is to provide two assurances to United States workers, including the citizens of Puerto Rico. First, these workers are given a preference over foreign workers for jobs that become available within this country. Second, to the extent that foreign workers are brought in, the working conditions of domestic employees are not to be adversely affected, nor are United States workers to be discriminated against in favor of foreign workers.
The particular facts of this case involve the 1978 apple harvest on the east coast. That was apparently a good year for apples, resulting in a substantial need for temporary farm laborers to pick the crop. To meet this need the apple growers filed clearance orders with their state employment agencies. Through the system described above, a total of 2,318 job openings were transmitted to Puerto Rico on August 2, 1978. As of August 14, which marked the end of the 60-day "availability" period, supra, at 596, the Commonwealth Department of Labor had recruited 1,094 Puerto Rican workers. Puerto Rican workers for the remaining openings were subsequently recruited. As stated in Puerto Rico's complaint:
Puerto Rico filed this suit on January 11, 1979, naming as defendants numerous individuals and companies engaged in the apple industry in Virginia.
Petitioners responded with a motion to dismiss, asserting that respondent lacked standing to bring this action. Although the District Court held that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is capable of asserting parens patriae interests in general, it agreed with petitioners' contention that no such action could be maintained under the circumstances of this case. In particular, the District Court relied upon the relatively small number of individuals directly involved—some 787 out of a total population of close to 3 million—and the slight impact upon the general economy of Puerto Rico that the loss of this number of temporary jobs could have.
A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed.
We granted certiorari to determine whether Puerto Rico could maintain a parens patriae action here, despite the small number of individuals directly involved. 454 U.S. 1079 (1981).
Parens patriae means literally "parent of the country."
This common-law approach, however, has relatively little to do with the concept of parens patriae standing that has developed in American law. That concept does not involve the State's stepping in to represent the interests of particular citizens who, for whatever reason, cannot represent themselves. In fact, if nothing more than this is involved—i. e., if the State is only a nominal party without a real interest of its own—then it will not have standing under the parens patriae doctrine. See Pennsylvania v. New Jersey, 426 U.S. 660 (1976); Oklahoma ex rel. Johnson v. Cook, 304 U.S. 387 (1938); Oklahoma v. Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co., 220 U.S. 277
Two sovereign interests are easily identified: First, the exercise of sovereign power over individuals and entities within the relevant jurisdiction—this involves the power to create and enforce a legal code, both civil and criminal; second, the demand for recognition from other sovereigns—most frequently this involves the maintenance and recognition of borders. The former is regnlarly at issue in constitutional litigation. The latter is also a frequent subject of litigation, particularly in this Court:
Not all that a State does, however, is based on its sovereign character. Two kinds of nonsovereign interests are to be distinguished. First, like other associations and private parties, a State is bound to have a variety of proprietary interests. A State may, for example, own land or participate in a business venture. As a proprietor, it is likely to have the same interests as other similarly situated proprietors. And like other such proprietors it may at times need to pursue
Quasi-sovereign interests stand apart from all three of the above: They are not sovereign interests, proprietary interests, or private interests pursued by the State as a nominal party. They consist of a set of interests that the State has in the well-being of its populace. Formulated so broadly, the concept risks being too vague to survive the standing requirements of Art. III: A quasi-sovereign interest must be sufficiently concrete to create an actual controversy between the State and the defendant. The vagueness of this concept can only be filled in by turning to individual cases.
That a parens patriae action could rest upon the articulation of a "quasi-sovereign" interest was first recognized by this Court in Louisiana v. Texas, 176 U.S. 1 (1900). In that case, Louisiana unsuccessfully sought to enjoin a quarantine maintained by Texas officials, which had the effect of limiting trade between Texas and the port of New Orleans. The Court labeled Louisiana's interest in the litigation as that of parens patriae, and went on to describe that interest by distinguishing it from the sovereign and proprietary interests of the State:
Although Louisiana was unsuccessful in that case in pursuing the commercial interests of its residents, a line of cases followed in which States successfully sought to represent the interests of their citizens in enjoining public nuisances. North Dakota v. Minnesota, 263 U.S. 365 (1923); Wyoming v. Colorado, 259 U.S. 419 (1922); New York v. New Jersey, 256 U.S. 296 (1921); Kansas v. Colorado, 206 U.S. 46 (1907); Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co., 206 U.S. 230 (1907); Kansas v. Colorado, 185 U.S. 125 (1902); Missouri v. Illinois, 180 U.S. 208 (1901).
In the earliest of these, Missouri v. Illinois, Missouri sought to enjoin the defendants from discharging sewage in such a way as to pollute the Mississippi River in Missouri. The Court relied upon an analogy to independent countries in order to delineate those interests that a State could pursue in federal court as parens patriae, apart from its sovereign and proprietary interests:
This analogy to an independent country was also articulated in Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co., supra, at 237, a case involving air pollution in Georgia caused by the discharge of noxious gasses from the defendant's plant in Tennessee. Justice Holmes, writing for the Court, described the State's interest under these circumstances as follows:
Both the Missouri case and the Georgia case involved the State's interest in the abatement of public nuisances, instances in which the injury to the public health and comfort was graphic and direct. Although there are numerous examples of such parens patriae suits, e. g., North Dakota v. Minnesota, supra (flooding); New York v. New Jersey, supra
In Pennsylvania v. West Virginia, 262 U.S. 553 (1923), for example, Pennsylvania was recognized as a proper party to represent the interests of its residents in maintaining access to natural gas produced in West Virginia:
The public nuisance and economic well-being lines of cases were specifically brought together in Georgia v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 324 U.S. 439 (1945), in which Georgia alleged that some 20 railroads had conspired to fix freight rates in a manner that discriminated against Georgia shippers in violation of the federal antitrust laws:
The Court has not attempted to draw any definitive limits on the proportion of the population of the State that must be adversely affected by the challenged behavior. Although more must be alleged than injury to an identifiable group of individual residents, the indirect effects of the injury must be considered as well in determining whether the State has alleged injury to a sufficiently substantial segment of its population. One helpful indication in determining whether an alleged injury to the health and welfare of its citizens suffices to give the State standing to sue as parens patriae is whether the injury is one that the State, if it could, would likely attempt to address through its sovereign lawmaking powers.
Distinct from but related to the general well-being of its residents, the State has an interest in securing observance of
We turn now to the allegations of the complaint to determine whether they satisfy either or both of these criteria.
The complaint presents two fundamental contentions. First, it alleges that the petitioners discriminated against Puerto Ricans in favor of foreign laborers. Second, it alleges that Puerto Ricans were denied the benefits of access to domestic work opportunities that the Wagner-Peyser Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 were designed to secure for United States workers. We find each of these allegations to fall within the Commonwealth's quasi-sovereign interests and, therefore, each will support a parens patriae action.
Alternatively, we find that Puerto Rico does have parens patriae standing to pursue the interests of its residents in the Commonwealth's full and equal participation in the federal employment service scheme established pursuant to the Wagner-Peyser Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Unemployment among Puerto Rican residents is surely a legitimate object of the Commonwealth's concern. Just as it may address that problem through its own legislation, it may also seek to assure its residents that they will
For these reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is
JUSTICE POWELL took no part in the decision of this case.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS join, concurring.
As the Court notes, ante, at 603, n. 12, the question whether a State can bring a parens patriae action within the original jurisdiction of this Court may well turn on considerations quite different from those implicated where the State
In cases such as the present one, I can discern no basis either in the Constitution or in policy for denying a State the opportunity to vindicate the federal rights of its citizens. At the very least, the prerogative of a State to bring suits in federal court should be commensurate with the ability of private organizations. A private organization may bring suit to vindicate its own concrete interest in performing those activities for which it was formed. E. g., Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 378-379 (1982);
More significantly, a State is no ordinary litigant. As a sovereign entity, a State is entitled to assess its needs, and decide which concerns of its citizens warrant its protection and intervention. I know of nothing — except the Constitution or overriding federal law — that might lead a federal court to superimpose its judgment for that of a State with respect to the substantiality or legitimacy of a State's assertion of sovereign interest.
With these considerations in mind, I join the opinion of the Court.
"It seems to us clear that under the authority of these cases Georgia may maintain this suit as parens patriae acting on behalf of her citizens though here, as in Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co., [206 U. S., at] 237, we treat the injury to the State as proprietor merely as a `makeweight.' The original jurisdiction of this Court is one of the mighty instruments which the framers of the Constitution provided so that adequate machinery might be available for the peaceful settlement of disputes between States and between a State and citizens of another State. See Missouri v. Illinois, [180 U. S., at] 219-224; Virginia v. West Virginia, 246 U.S. 565, 599. Trade barriers, recriminations, intense commercial rivalries had plagued the colonies. The traditional methods available to a sovereign for the settlement of such disputes were diplomacy and war. Suit in this Court was provided as an alternative. Missouri v. Illinois, supra, p. 241; Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co., supra, p. 237.
. . . . .
"Oklahoma v. Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co., [220 U.S. 277 (1911)], is not opposed to this view. In that case, the defendant railroad company had obtained a grant from Congress to locate and maintain a railway line through the Indian Territory out of which the State of Oklahoma was later formed. The federal act provided certain maximum transportation rates which the company might charge. Oklahoma sued to cancel the grant, to have the property granted decreed to be in the State of Oklahoma as cestui que trust, to enjoin the defendant from operating a railroad in the State, and to enjoin pendente lite the exaction of greater rates than the maximum rates specified. The Court construed the Act of Congress as subjecting the rates to federal control until the territory became a part of a State, at which time the rates became subject to state control. The Court held that our original jurisdiction could not be invoked by a State merely because its citizens were injured. We adhere to that decision. It does not control the present one. This is no attempt to utilize our original jurisdiction in substitution for the established methods of enforcing local law. This is not a suit in which a State is a mere nominal plaintiff, individual shippers being the real complainants. This is a suit in which Georgia asserts claims arising out of federal laws and the gravamen of which runs far beyond the claim of damage to individual shippers."