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Fed Courts (LAW-643-001)
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From the unique and complex legal issues arising out of the war on terrorism to the late Anna Nicole Smith’s quest for her husband’s fortune; from unprecedented congressional alteration of federal jurisdiction with regard to class actions, bankruptcy, large-scale accidents, and immigration law to the courts’ own mounting internal struggles with an ever-expanding caseload; and from the political idiosyncrasies of the Terri Schiavo case to the availability of domestic courts to litigate international human rights abuses, the study of federal courts has an importance and significance today unmatched in generations.
As a field, Federal Courts is principally about judicial power, including the full constitutional extent of that power, the constitutional and sub-constitutional limits on that power, and how that power is exercised by the federal courts to protect the separation of powers and other fundamental constitutional ideals. Thus, rather than studying a particular body of law, our focus in on a particular actor — the federal judiciary in general, and the “Article III” courts, in particular. To that end, our topics will include, among others, the constitutional scope of the jurisdiction of the federal courts (and Congress’s power to constrain that jurisdiction); the legal authority for, and substantive limits on, non-Article III courts; military tribunals and the war on terrorism; the jurisdictional interplay between state and federal courts; the complicated and somewhat convoluted field of “federal common law”; the availability of (and scope of sovereign and official immunity from) suits challenging state and federal official action; judge-made doctrines based on federalism and principles of comity that otherwise limit the exercise of federal jurisdiction; and the procedural minefield that is federal habeas corpus for state prisoners.
Whereas our study of each issue is, in many ways, primarily interested in the history and structure of the federal judicial system, these topics necessarily include within their sweep fundamental questions about the proper horizontal separation of powers between the political branches and the judiciary, the proper vertical separation of powers between federal and state courts, and the structural and individualized constitutional issues raised by any of the relevant actors’ attempts to alter the historical balance.
Textbooks and Other Materials
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Richard H. Fallon Jr., et al., Hart & Wechsler's The Federal Courts and the Federal System (6th ed. 2009), and 2014 Supplement thereto. Other readings to be provided via MyWCL.
First Class Readings
Not available at this time.
The syllabus is available in the following format(s):