Current Issue

Retiring Forum Non Conveniens

Maggie Gardner

When it comes to transnational litigation in the federal courts, it is time to retire the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The doctrine, which allows judges to decline jurisdiction in cases they believe would be better heard in foreign courts, is meant to promote international comity and protect defendant fairness. But it was never well designed for the former purpose, and given recent developments at the Supreme Court, it is dangerously redundant when it comes to the latter. This Article seeks to demythologize forum non conveniens, to question its continuing relevance, and to encourage the courts and Congress to narrow its scope of application so that, when the time is right, it may be fully interred. 

Labor and the Origins of Civil Procedure

Luke P. Norris

A series of changes within civil procedure over the past few decades—including the rise of private arbitration, the accompanying decline of public adjudication, and the erection of barriers to class actions—have diminished the economic power of workers, consumers, and diffuse economic actors. This Article demonstrates that avoiding these economic consequences was a central goal of those who crafted American federal civil procedure in the first place. Driven to action by the procedural issues involved in labor injunction cases, leading procedural reformers behind the modern regime strove to make American federal civil procedure sensitive to questions of political economy and designed it to mitigate rather than reflect economic power imbalances. This Article connects their procedural reform efforts in the enactment of the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 to the rise of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure of 1938, and, in so doing, reveals the unexplored progressive economic foundations of federal civil procedure.

This history provides a platform for a more conceptual analysis about civil procedure and economic power. The Article embeds the Norris-LaGuardia Act’s procedural provisions in the rise of the federal government’s facilitation of the “countervailing power” of workers, and begins to articulate the procedural dimensions of economic empowerment. While countervailing power is typically thought of as being facilitated by substantive law, the Norris-LaGuardia Act demonstrates how civil procedure can facilitate the exercise of countervailing power by providing economically less-resourced parties with open hearings and structuring procedure to protect their ability to amass power through association. More broadly, and returning to present issues, this Article argues that the recent transformations in civil procedure both undermine the economic purposes that were central to the regime’s rise and diminish the ability of diffuse economic actors to exercise counter- vailing power—threatening once-enduring procedural commitments.


Looking over a Crowd—Do More Interpretive Sources Mean More Discretion

Adam M. Samaha

Observers have suggested that adding sources of interpretation tends to increase interpreter discretion. The idea is embedded in a quip, attributed to Judge Harold Leventhal, that citing legislative history is like “looking over a crowd and picking out your friends.” Participants in debates over interpretive method have applied the idea to the proliferation of other sources as well, including canons of construction and originalist history. But the logic of “more sources, more discretion” has escaped serious testing. And predicting the effect of source proliferation is not a matter of logic alone. The empirical study of how information loads affect behavior has grown dramatically in recent decades, though almost without notice in legal scholarship on interpretive method.

This Article tests the logic and evidence for “more sources, more discretion.” The idea turns out to be incorrect, without more, as a matter of logic. Adding sources tends to reduce the chance of discretion using a simple model of interpretation. This starter model depicts judges as aggregators of source implications, and it draws on basic probability theory and computer simulations to illustrate. The analysis does change if we allow judges to “spin” or “cherry pick” sources, but without much hope for limiting discretion by limiting sources. Of course, judges will not always behave like machines executing instructions or otherwise follow the logic of these models. Thus the Article goes on to spotlight provocative empirical studies of information-load effects, develop working theories of interpreter behavior, and present new evidence.

After emphasizing that interpreters might ignore additional information at some point, the Article tests three other theories. First, an extended dataset casts doubt on an earlier study that linked a growing stock of precedents to increased judicial discretion. Adding to the pile of precedents seems to have no simple pattern of effect on discretion. Second, existing studies indicate that increasing information loads might prompt judges to promote the status quo, and new data suggest that this effect depends on the type of information added. The number of sources cited in appellant briefs appears to have no effect on judges’ willingness to affirm—in contrast with the number of words and issues presented, which may have opposing effects. Third, an expanded dataset supports an earlier finding that judges who face a large number of doctrinal factors might weight those factors in a quasi-legal fashion. This time-saving prioritization does not seem to follow conventional ideological lines.

With simple intuitions in doubt, thoughtful work remains to be done on the effects of source proliferation. Observers interested in judicial discretion have good reason to look beyond source proliferation to find it. And observers interested in institutional design have good reason to rethink the range of consequences when information is added to our judicial systems.