Spring 2014 Course Schedule

Federal Courts (LAW-643-001)

Meets: 03:00 PM - 04:50 PM (TTH) - Room 524

Enrolled: 44 / Limit: 50

Administrator Access


There are no notices at this time.


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 to determine if books are currently available for purchase online.

Richard H. Fallon, Jr., et al., Hart & Wechsler's The Federal Courts and the Federal System (6th ed. 2009), and 2013 Supplement thereto.

First Class Readings

For our first class on Tuesday, January 7, you should carefully review the Course Overview and Syllabus (I expect you to be familiar with everything outlined therein), and complete Assignment 1 ("Marbury and the Function of Adjudication").

As you review these materials, consider the following questions, which will form the basis for our class discussion:

(1) In the materials on the Constitutional Convention, focus specifically on the nine categories of lawsuits over which the Founders empowered Congress to confer jurisdiction upon the federal courts (pp. 13-18). Why were each of these particularly appropriate for federal jurisdiction?

(2) Before reading Marbury, jump to page 61 and remind yourself of the historical background in which the case reached the Supreme Court. Why did the question presented pose such a tricky political problem for Chief Justice Marshall? How did he duck it?

(3) Do you agree with Marbury’s interpretation of Article III as barring Congress from altering the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction? Are there any competing, plausible interpretations of the same language? Why might the Court have wanted to bar Congress from expanding its original jurisdiction?

(4) On pg. 62, Marshall suggests that there are some “political” questions that are not the appropriate subject of judicial review. Like what? Why isn’t Marbury’s entitlement to his commission one such question? What might be?

(5) Pay special attention to the note on the “Function of Adjudication” beginning on page 72. Do you see the distinction between the “dispute resolution” and “law declaration” models? Which do you believe is more appropriate for the federal courts? Does it depend on the circumstances or the specific court resolving the issue? If so, what should matter? Which approach better characterizes Marshall’s opinion in Marbury? Why?


Use your MyAU username and password to access the syllabus in the following format(s):