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Federal 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
The textbook information on this page was provided by the instructor. Students should use this information when considering purchases from the AU Campus Store or other vendors. Students may check here to determine if books are currently available for purchase at the AU Campus Store.
The only required text is Richard H. Fallon, Jr., et al., Hart & Wechsler's the Federal Courts and the Federal System (6th ed. 2009). As noted in the syllabus, you might also consider acquiring the 5th edition of Erwin Chemerinsky's treatise "Federal Jurisdiction," but you are not expected to do so. You do not need to purchase the 2011 Supplement to the casebook.
First Class Readings
Your assignment for the first class is to carefully read through the Course Overview and Syllabus (attached below), and also to read the Supreme Court's decision in Stern v. Marshall, 131 S. Ct. 2594 (2011) [you should skip Part II of Chief Justice Roberts' majority opinion]. As you read through the majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions, consider the following questions:
(1) Be clear on why the constitutional scope of the bankruptcy court's jurisdiction matters in this case. If the district court eventually confirmed the bankruptcy court's judgment anyway (since it didn't think the bankruptcy court had the power to act finally), why does it matter here whether or not the bankruptcy court had the power to issue a final judgment?
(2) On the merits, why does Chief Justice Roberts conclude that the bankruptcy court lacked the power to act finally over Vickie's counterclaim? How does he read the Court's prior cases in this area? What is the relevance of his conclusions (a) that Vickie's counterclaim is not a "public right"; and (b) that Pierce did not "consent" to the counterclaim merely by filing his claim? Are you convinced? Why isn't Justice Breyer?
(3) The problem the Chief ultimately identifies is both exceedingly narrow and easily resolved (by having district courts confirm bankruptcy court judgments in such matters, as happened here). Indeed, it only matters in this case because of the timing and preclusive effect of the intervening Texas probate court decision. As a result, why does the Court think this issue is so significant? What is the majority worried about, in the long-term? Do you buy it?
(4) One of the striking themes of Justice Breyer's dissent is its reliance on "functionalism," and the argument that it's just more efficient to allow bankruptcy courts to exercise final authority over claims like Vickie's counterclaim. Do you agree with him? What about his claim that any errors in the bankruptcy proceedings can be corrected by "Article III" courts on appeal? How does the majority respond? Who's more convincing, in your view?
(5) Finally, Justice Scalia's vintage concurrence suggests that there's no coherent theory that governs the Court's jurisprudence concerning the limits on adjudication by non-Article III federal courts (he's absolutely right). So start from the beginning: Why do we need Article III courts? What considerations should govern whether and when we allow questions of federal law to be decided by non-Article III courts? In light of your answer, how should this case have come out?
The syllabus is available in the following format(s):