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Judicial Decisions as Legislation: Congressional Oversight of Supreme Court Tax Cases, 1954–2005

Nancy Staudt, René Lindstädt, Jason O’Connor

This Article offers a new understanding of the dynamic between the Supreme Court and Congress. It responds to an important literature that for several decades has misunderstood interbranch relations as continually fraught with antagonism and distrust. This unfriendly dynamic, many have argued, is evidenced by repeated congressional overrides of Supreme Court cases. While this claim is true in some circumstances, it ignores the friendly relations that exist between these two branches of government—relations that may be far more typical than scholars suspect.

This Article undertakes a comprehensive study of congressional responses to Supreme Court tax cases and makes a surprising finding: Overrides, although the main focus of the extant literature, account for just a small portion of the legislative activity responding to the Court. In fact, Congress is nearly as likely to support and affirm judicial decisionmaking through the codification of a case outcome as it is to reverse a decision through a legislative override. To investigate fully the nature of congressional oversight of Supreme Court decisionmaking, this Article undertakes both qualitative and quantitative analyses of different types of legislative review of Supreme Court decisions—examining codifications and citations, as well as overrides, in legislative debates, committees, and hearings. The result is a series of important and robust findings that challenge and build on the Court-Congress literature, identifying the legal, political, and economic factors that explain how and why legislators take notice of Supreme Court cases.

The study reveals a complex and nuanced interbranch dynamic and shows that the Justices themselves affect the legislative agenda to a greater extent than previously understood. This result challenges scholars who have questioned whether the Supreme Court should have jurisdiction over complex issues, such as those in the economic context, in which the Justices may lack sufficient training. This Article argues that scholars have little need to worry about Court decisionmaking in these areas: Not only do legislators routinely review the Court’s decisions, but they also frequently confirm the outcomes as valuable contributions to national policymaking via the codification process.

Neuroimaging and the “Complexity” of Capital Punishment

O. Carter Snead

The growing use of brain imaging technology to explore the causes of morally, socially, and legally relevant behavior is the subject of much discussion and controversy in both scholarly and popular circles. From the efforts of cognitive neuroscientists in the courtroom and the public square, the contours of a project to transform capital sentencing both in principle and in practice have emerged. In the short term, these scientists seek to play a role in the process of capital sentencing by serving as mitigation experts for defendants, invoking neuroimaging research on the roots of criminal violence to support their arguments. Over the long term, these same experts (and their like-minded colleagues) hope to appeal to the recent findings of their discipline to embarrass, discredit, and ultimately overthrow retributive justice as a principle of punishment. Taken as a whole, these short- and long-term efforts are ultimately meant to usher in a more compassionate and humane regime for capital defendants.

This Article seeks to articulate, analyze, and provide a critique of this project according to the metric of its own humanitarian aspirations. It proceeds by exploring the implications of the project in light of the mechanics of capital sentencing and the heterogeneous array of competing doctrinal rationales in which they are rooted. The Article concludes that the project as currently conceived is internally inconsistent and would, if implemented, result in ironic and tragic consequences, producing a death penalty regime that is even more draconian and less humane than the deeply flawed framework currently in place.

Finishing a Friendly Argument: The Jury and the Historical Origins of Diversity Jurisdiction

Robert L. Jones

This Article argues that diversity jurisdiction was intended to funnel politically significant litigation into the federal courts principally because federal officials would have the power to dictate the composition of federal juries. All existing accounts for the origins of diversity jurisdiction ultimately rely upon putative differences between the state and federal benches for their explanations of the jurisdiction’s origin. This emphasis on the bench is anachronistic, however, because the jury possessed far more power than the bench to decide cases in eighteenth-century American courts. American juries during this period customarily had the right to decide issues of law as well as fact and were largely beyond the control of the bench. The Framers saw state court juries—independent bodies of citizens with almost unfettered power to resolve legal disputes—as one of the greatest dangers in allowing ordinary citizens too much control over the governance of the nation. By wresting adjudicative power out of the hands of state court juries and bestowing it upon federal juries whose compositions could be tightly controlled by federal officials, diversity jurisdiction accomplished the Constitution’s overarching purpose of checking the operation of “unrestrained” democracy in the states.

Once the federal courts were established, federal officials controlled the composition of federal juries in several ways. In most districts, federal marshals dictated the composition of federal juries by hand-selecting jurors of their choice. In addition, Congress ensured that the political, economic, and social characteristics of federal juries would differ dramatically from their state counterparts by providing that the federal courts would draw their juries overwhelmingly from the urban, commercial centers of the nation. The state courts, by contrast, drew their juries predominantly from the agrarian populations living outside those centers. It is highly unlikely that this pervasive control over the composition of federal juries was an unintended consequence of the Constitution. Instead, as this Article argues, the evidence strongly suggests that the federal officials’ control over the composition of federal juries constituted the single most important impetus behind the creation of diversity jurisdiction and a significant rationale for the establishment of the lower federal courts.

Judge Henry Friendly and the Mirror of Constitutional Law

Michael Boudin

Madison Lecture

Henry J. Friendly was one of the nation’s preeminent appellate judges. Judge Michael Boudin, once a law clerk to Judge Friendly, describes Judge Friendly’s career and judicial outlook in the New York University School of Law’s annual James Madison Lecture. Drawing upon Judge Friendly’s constitutional writings and decisions, the lecture touches upon Friendly’s gifts of mind, energy, and writing ability, and certain of his judicial characteristics: his attitude toward precedent and other constraints, his practical judgment, his intellectual rigor, and his essential moderation.

Finality in Class Action Litigation: Lessons from Habeas

William B. Rubenstein

A class action can only bind class members who are “adequately represented,” and thus a class action court necessarily determines representational adequacy. But should class members who were not an active part of that proceeding be able to relitigate adequacy in a collateral forum at a later date so as to evade the binding effect of the class judgment? Courts and scholars have generated a bipolar response to that question, with one side arguing that full relitigation is required by the constitutional nature of the question and the other insisting that no relitigation is permitted because of the issue-preclusive effect of the class court’s holding. Despite the richness of this debate, myriad specific questions about the availability, substance, and procedural details of the relitigation opportunity remain unexamined. In this Article, Professor Rubenstein expands the conversation outward by comparing class action law’s approach to relitigation of adequacy of representation with habeas corpus’s approach to relitigation of ineffective assistance of counsel claims in criminal cases. Using two recent, seemingly unconnected Supreme Court cases—one from each field—as case studies, Professor Rubenstein explains how these cases in fact raise remarkably similar questions. Specifically, the comparison reveals that habeas provides a relatively clear, rule-based system that specifies when—and according to what procedural rules—relitigation is available. Professor Rubenstein concludes by arguing that there are lessons for class action law in habeas’s approach: a method for considering when relitigation is appropriate that avoids the extremes of either “always” or “never”; a rule system that helps identify issues (such as substantive standards, degrees of deference, burdens of proof, and defaults) that have yet to be carefully examined in class action law; and a template for balancing the competing policy concerns at issue. Without defending current habeas doctrine, and without pretending that habeas and class actions are overtly similar, the Article nonetheless demonstrates that class action law’s relitigation problem can learn something through a close look at criminal law’s relitigation solutions.

Of Equal Wrongs and Half Rights

Gideon Parchomovsky, Peter Siegelman, Steve Thel

With a tiny handful of exceptions, common law jurisprudence is predicated on a “winner-take-all” principle: The plaintiff either gets the entire entitlement at issue or collects nothing at all. Cases that split an entitlement between the two parties are exceedingly rare. While there may be sound reasons for the all-or-nothing rule, in this Article we argue that there is a limited but important set of property, torts, and contracts cases in which an equal division of an entitlement should be adopted. The common element in these cases is a windfall—a gain or loss that occurs despite the fact that no effort to promote, prevent, or allocate it ex ante would be cost-justified or reasonable. We show that an equal division of disputed windfalls promotes both efficiency and fairness and also has the virtue of clarifying several tortured legal doctrines.

We also address and reject the standard objections to split-the-difference remedies. We demonstrate that the introduction of a splitting option is unlikely to distort judicial incentives, and that it is likely to improve the integrity of the judicial system. Counterintuitively, we show that giving judges the option to order a compromise remedy in windfall disputes is likely to reduce judicial error, rather than increase it, and that the valuation problems that attend the introduction of a split-the-difference rule are insignificant.

Understanding “Judicial Lockjaw”: The Debate over Extrajudicial Activity

Leslie B. Dubeck

Federal judges are expected to conduct themselves differently than their counterparts in the political branches. This Note considers the policy and historical reasons used to justify this different standard of conduct and concludes that these justifications are largely unsupported or overstated. These erroneous justifications obfuscate the debate over extrajudicial conduct and may result in a suboptimal level of extrajudicial activity.

Lower Court Discretion

Pauline T. Kim

Empirical scholars typically model the judicial hierarchy in terms of a principal-agent relationship in which the Supreme Court, the principal, sets policy and the lower federal courts, as agents, must faithfully implement that policy. The law is a signal—the means by which the Court communicates its preferences. This Article argues instead for recognizing the law as an independent normative force. Empirical scholars fail to take seriously the role of law because they reject as implausible formalistic accounts of its operation. This Article advances a more nuanced account of how law shapes the decisionmaking environment of the lower federal courts, one that focuses on the presence of discretion. It explores how different types of discretion afford distinct types of power over lawmaking and case outcomes, and how that discretionary power is allocated between district and appellate courts. Paying attention to discretion suggests features of the judicial hierarchy that are commonly overlooked in principal-agent models. For example, judges’ goals, and therefore their strategies, will vary depending upon whether they seek to influence law development or merely to shape case outcomes. The Article also questions the normative assumption, implicit in principal-agent models, that lower federal courts should decide cases in accordance with the policy preferences of the Supreme Court. Because judges inevitably have discretion when applying the law, a norm of compliance with superior court precedent does not necessarily require lower courts to follow the policy preferences of the Supreme Court. The reasons judicial discretion exists, such as allocating power within the judicial hierarchy, may argue against such a centralization of power in the Supreme Court.

Populism and Patents

The Honorable Kimberly A. Moore

Lawyers and other commentators often remark that American courts, and American juries in particular, are prejudiced against large corporate entities. Existing empirical research attempting to confirm this suspicion is contradictory and suffers from a number of shortcomings. In this Article, Judge Moore reexamines the issue by reporting the results of research on an original dataset of over four thousand patent cases and more than one million patents. The results indicate that individuals and corporations are treated differently in jury trials of patent property rights. In jury trials of patent cases between corporations and individuals, individ-uals won 74% of the time, with corporations winning in the remaining 26% of cases. Corporations and individuals won at nearly equal rates in judge trials. Marshaling a range of other evidence, Judge Moore explains that these results are likely to understate the degree of bias.

Moreover, analysis of patent cases permits the exploration of a related phenomenon—the heroic iconization of the American inventor. Just as the injured tort victim is viewed sympathetically, the American inventor is idealized for her ingenuity, productivity, and creativity. The individual inventor puts a face on the corporate entity, humanizing or personalizing it. Hence, even corporation-versus-corporation litigation has an individual component and therefore provides an opportunity for bias to impact decisionmaking.

Against Preemption: How Federalism Can Improve the National Legislative Process

Roderick M. Hills, Jr.

How easily should courts infer that federal statutes preempt state law? An ongoing debate exists on the question in Congress and among scholars and judges. One side calls for judges to protect federalism by adopting a rule of statutory construction that would bar preemption absent a clear statement of preemptive intent. Opponents argue against such a “clear statement” rule by arguing that state control over preemptable topics is often presumptively inefficient, because common law juries lack expertise and because states are prone to imposing external costs on their neighbors.

This Article sidesteps these debates over preemption and instead argues that, quite apart from whether state law is itself efficient, an anti-preemption rule of statutory construction has benefits for the national lawmaking process. Because of the size and heterogeneity of the population that it governs, Congress has institutional tendencies to avoid politically sensitive issues, deferring them to bureaucratic resolution and instead concentrating on constituency service. Nonfederal politicians can disrupt this tendency to ignore or suppress political controversy by enacting state laws that regulate business interests, thus provoking those interests to seek federal legislation that will preempt the state legislation. In effect, state politicians place issues on Congress’s agenda by enacting state legislation. Because business groups tend to have more consistent incentives to seek preemption than anti-preemption interests have to oppose preemption, controversial regulatory issues are more likely to end up on Congress’s agenda if business groups bear the burden of seeking preemption. Moreover, the interests opposing preemption tend to use publicity rather than internal congressional procedures to promote their ends. Therefore, by adopting an anti-preemption rule of construction, the courts would tend to promote a more highly visible, vigorous style of public debate in Congress.