The banking industry's Supreme Court victory in the credit union common bond case could become a powerful weapon in challenges to the rulings of other federal regulators.
"This is important to lots of folks beyond us," said Michael F. Crotty, deputy general counsel for litigation at the American Bankers Association.
"A contrary decision would have immunized a whole lot of federal agencies from any type of plaintiff attack."
The court on Feb. 25 ruled 5-to-4 that the banking industry had a legal right to sue the National Credit Union Administration over its 1982 decision to let occupation-based federal credit unions accept members from unrelated companies.
The ruling's most immediate impact outside credit unions could come in the banking industry's challenge to the Farm Credit System. The government's primary defense has been that the banking industry lacks standing, or in other words, the right to sue.
"I expect the other side will not continue their decision to challenge our standing to sue, in light of the credit union decision," Mr. Crotty said.
The ruling also makes it easier for the banking industry to fight rulings by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Office of Thrift Supervision, and Department of Education.
"I have no idea if there is anything to sue these folks over," Mr. Crotty said. "But it is nice to know that if they do evil things to us we have the opportunity to challenge an illegal action that harms us."
But C. Dawn Causey, general counsel at America's Community Bankers, cautioned that the ruling is not all good news. It could cause some judges to give less weight to decisions by regulators. Banks have successfully used this so-called deference to defeat challenges to their regulator- granted authority to sell annuities and insurance.
"This is going to get interesting," Ms. Causey said. "Are agencies going to be more vulnerable to challenges to their actions?"
Ms. Causey also noted that the Supreme Court has yet to rule in Federal Election Commission v. Atkinson, which raises the issue whether citizens have the right to challenge a government decision that an organization is not a political action committee.
The justices could use that case to narrow the more expansive view of standing expressed in the credit union case, she said.