Current Issue

Volume 95, Number 6

December 2020

Dangerous Citations

Maggie Gardner

This Article considers when optional case citations may do more harm than good. There are valid reasons for citing to non-binding precedent—to promote consistency in the law, for example, or to avoid wasteful redundancy. But unconsidered invocations of non-binding authority may also introduce error into individual opinions and distort the path of the law over time. This Article catalogues such dangerous citations as used in particular by federal district courts citing to other federal district courts with three goals in mind: to help judges use non-binding authority constructively, to help law clerks think critically about their citation practices, and to help readers of judicial opinions question the rhetoric of constraint.

In mapping these problematic uses of non-binding authority, the Article distinguishes between poorly conceived citations and poorly implemented citations. Poorly conceived citations are those for which non-binding precedent is simply not a useful authority. Examples of poorly conceived citations include reliance on prior opinions to establish facts or the content of another sovereign’s laws. Poorly implemented citations are those for which non-binding precedent may be relevant but should be selected and applied with care. Examples of poorly implemented citations include over-extended analogies and reliance on judge-made tests that are misaligned with the question being evaluated. This catalogue of poorly conceived and poorly implemented citations surfaces some common themes, including the need for better-designed tests and the challenges posed by modern research methods. But dangerous citations are not simply a matter of inadvertence, carelessness, or mistake; they may also be deployed for rhetorical purposes, in particular to signal legitimacy and restraint. The Article thus ends with a warning against “performative judging,” or the use of excessive citations to suggest greater constraint than the law in fact provides. Such citations are dangerous not just for the error they may introduce, but also because they obscure judicial choice and the inherently discretionary nature of judging.

Laboratories of Exclusion: Medicaid, Federalism, & Immigrants

Medha D. Makhlouf

Medicaid’s cooperative federalism structure gives states significant discretion to include or exclude various categories of noncitizens. This has created extreme geographic variability in noncitizens’ access to health coverage. This Article describes federalism’s role in influencing state policies on noncitizen eligibility for Medicaid and its implications for national health policy. Although there are disagreements over the extent to which public funds should be used to subsidize noncitizen health coverage, this Article reveals that decentralized policymaking on noncitizen access to Medicaid has weakened national health policy by increasing wasteful spending and exacerbating inequities in access to healthcare. It has failed to incentivize the type of state policy experimentation and replication that justifies federalism arrangements in other contexts. Rather, federalism has (1) enabled states to enact exclusionary policies that are ineffective and inhumane and (2) created barriers for states to enact inclusionary policies that advance the normative goals of health policy. This Article concludes that noncitizen access to health coverage is best addressed through centralized policymaking.

This Article contributes to scholarly conversations about federalism and healthcare by providing a case study to test the efficacy of federalism arrangements in achieving equity for those who were left behind by health reform. More broadly, it adds to the federalism literature by synthesizing insights from three fields that rarely comment on one another: health law, immigration law, and federalism theory.

Congress’s Article III Power and the Process of Constitutional Change

Christopher Jon Sprigman

Text in Article III of the U.S. Constitution appears to give to Congress authority to make incursions into judicial supremacy, by restricting (or, less neutrally, “stripping”) the jurisdiction of federal courts. Article III gives Congress authority to make “exceptions” to the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction. Article III also gives Congress discretion whether to “ordain and establish” lower federal courts. Congress’s power to create or abolish these courts would seem to include the power to create them but to limit their jurisdiction, and that is how the power has historically been understood.

Is Congress’s power to remove the jurisdiction of federal courts in effect a legislative power to choose the occasions on which federal courts may, and may not, have the final word on the meaning of the Constitution? That is a question on which the Supreme Court has never spoken definitively.

In this Article I argue that Congress, working through the ordinary legislative process, may remove the jurisdiction of federal and even state courts to hear cases involving particular questions of federal law, including cases that raise questions under the Federal Constitution. Understood this way, the implications of Congress’s Article III power are profound. Congress may prescribe, by ordinary legislation, constitutional rules in areas where the meaning of the Constitution is unsettled. Or it may displace otherwise settled constitutional rules by ordinary legislation.

To be clear, Article III does not permit Congress to escape accountability. Rather, Article III gives to Congress the power to choose whether it must answer, in a particular instance, to judges or to voters. Compared with judicial review, the political constraint is, of course, less formal and predictable. But that does not mean that the political constraint is weak. A successful exercise of its Article III power will require a majority in Congress, and, in most instances, a President, who agree both on the substantive policy at issue and on the political viability of overriding the public expectation that Congress should face a judicial check. In such instances, we should welcome the exercise of Congress’s Article III power. In the push-and-pull between judicially-enforced constitutional rules and the desires of current democratic majorities, the potential for Congress’s exercise of its Article III power helps legitimate both constitutionalism and judicial review.


Beyond “Valid and Reliable”: The LSAT, ABA Standard 503, and the Future of Law School Admissions

Eremipagamo M. Amabebe

For nearly a century, the American Bar Association (ABA) has overseen the standards governing accredited law schools, which in turn constitute the primary pathway to the practice of law in the United States. ABA Standard 503 requires that all such schools use a “valid and reliable” examination to assess candidates for admission. Currently, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is the only examination that the ABA has officially recognized as satisfying the standard. However, the LSAT—now approaching its eightieth year—has strayed far from the purposes it was originally designed to serve. Once a simple tool to aid in the assessment of diverse applicants, it has in recent decades become a significant barrier to entry with disparate negative impacts on women, racial minorities, individuals of low socioeconomic status, and, perhaps most egregiously, those with disabilities. This Note argues that Standard 503 should be rescinded. Such a step is necessary both to stimulate innovation in law school admissions and to fulfill the ABA’s mandate of promoting diversity in the legal profession and serving the larger public good.

Federalism and Regulatory Takings

Nicholas G. Miller

In the area of regulatory takings, federal courts often confront issues of state law. This is because property is largely a regime of positive state law, while the Takings Clause is a federal constitutional guarantee. This Note deals with the standard of review to be applied by federal courts as to questions of state property law in the takings context. This Note explores two regulatory takings decisions by the Supreme Court—Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council and Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection—in which the Court conducted independent assessments of state property law. This Note argues that a more deferential standard of review, known as the fair support rule, is more appropriate for state-law issues arising in takings disputes. To arrive at this conclusion, this Note draws on principles of federalism and positivism expressed in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins and by scholars in the legal process school.

Tortious Constructions: Holding Federal Law Enforcement Accountable by Applying the FTCA’s Law Enforcement Proviso over the Discretionary Function Exception

Eric Wang

Courts are reluctant to decide cases alleging abuses by federal law enforcement. This judicial reluctance is largely attributed to the principle of sovereign immunity, which holds that the United States—and therefore the federal government—cannot be sued. However, the sovereign can of its own accord consent to be sued: The federal government provided that consent in 1946 by enacting the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which allows tort suits against the United States. Specifically, a provision of the FTCA—the law enforcement proviso—explicitly states that law enforcement officers are amenable to suit for certain intentional torts. Nevertheless, courts have restricted the proviso’s efficacy through narrow interpretations and undue deference to competing FTCA provisions such as the discretionary function exception.

This Note argues that the law enforcement proviso must be interpreted more broadly to properly hold government officers accountable. It takes on the project of sifting through the FTCA’s complexity and history to articulate why the correct doctrinal approach is to apply the proviso exclusively, superseding any competing provision within the FTCA. It delineates the current spectrum of approaches among the circuit courts, finding that only the Eleventh Circuit has adopted the advocated approach. The Note then justifies this approach under statutory interpretation principles and tort law theory while also considering the practical consequences of a disappearing Bivens remedy. Properly understood, the complexity of the FTCA and the barrier of sovereign immunity fade away: For government activity as intrusive and forceful as law enforcement, a court of law simply must have the ability to hold officers accountable.