Judicial Process


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.

Valuing the Federal Right: Reevaluating the Outer Limits of Supplemental Jurisdiction

Neel K. Chopra

The federal circuit courts are divided on the question of whether the federal courts’ supplemental jurisdiction power encompasses permissive state law counterclaims that lack an independent basis of federal jurisdiction. By analyzing the arguments set forth in various circuit court decisions, this Note develops a new approach for assessing the availability of supplemental jurisdiction over permissive state law counterclaims. It argues that the federal courts may assert jurisdiction over state law counterclaims only when the federal interest supports hearing those state law claims.

Judicial Review of Legislative Purpose

Caleb Nelson

Modern constitutional doctrine is full of restrictions on the reasons for which legislatures can enact certain kinds of statutes. Modern American courts, moreover, stand ready to enforce those restrictions by considering a broad array of sources about the hidden purposes behind challenged statutes. Yet for most of our history, courts shied away from those inquiries—not because state and federal constitutions were thought to impose no purpose-based restrictions on legislative power, but because such restrictions were not thought to lend themselves to much judicial enforcement. This Article calls attention to bygone norms of judicial review, which often prevented courts from investigating the motivations behind statutes even when the statutes’ constitutionality depended upon those motivations. The Article proceeds to describe changes over time in the practice of judicial review. The history that emerges sheds light on myriad subjects, including the proper interpretation of various seminal precedents, the source of some of the apparent inconsistency in doctrines that implicate purpose-based restrictions on legislative power, and the ways in which uncodified aspects of judicial practice can affect the glosses that courts put on the Constitution’s text.

Evidence-Based Judicial Discretion: Promoting Public Safety Through State Sentencing Reform

The Honorable Michael A. Wolff

Brennan Lecture

In this speech delivered for the annual Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice, the Honorable Michael Wolff offers a new way of thinking about sentencing. Instead of attempting to limit judicial discretion and increase incarceration, states should aim to reduce recidivism in order to make our communities safer. Judge Wolff uses the example of Missouri’s sentencing reforms to argue that states should adopt evidence-based sentencing, in which the effectiveness of different sentences and treatment programs are regularly evaluated. In pre-sentencing investigative reports, probation officers should attempt to quantify—based on historical data—the risk the offender poses to the community and the specific treatment that would be most likely to prevent reoffending. Judges, on their own, lack the resources to implement all of these recommendations; probation officers and others involved in sentencing should receive the same information—risk assessment data—and their recommendations should become more influential as they gain expertise.

Qualified Immunity in Limbo: Rights, Procedure, and the Social Costs of Damages Litigation Against Public Officials

David L. Noll

Damages litigation against public officials implicates social costs that ordinary civil litigation between private parties does not. Litigation against public officials costs taxpayers money, may inhibit officials in the performance of their duties, and has the potential to reveal privileged information and decisionmaking processes. The doctrine of qualified immunity—that public officials are generally immune from civil liability for their official actions unless they have unreasonably violated a clearly established federal right—is designed to address these risks. The doctrine, however, demands an application of law to facts that, as a practical matter, requires substantial pretrial discovery. Federal courts have responded with a variety of novel procedural devices. This Note critiques those devices and suggests that courts confronted with a claim of qualified immunity should view their principal task as narrowing the universe of the plaintiff’s claims, thus facilitating a discovery process structured around dispositive legal issues.

Choosing Interpretive Methods: A Positive Theory of Judges and Everyone Else

Alexander Volokh

In this Article, I propose a theory of how rational, ideologically motivated judges might choose interpretive methods, and how rational, ideologically motivated laymen—legislators, litigation organizations, lobbyists, scholars, and citizens—might respond. I assume, first, that judges not only have ideological preferences but also want to write plausible opinions. Second, I assume that every method of statutory or constitutional interpretation has a “most plausible point” along a spectrum of possible decisions in a given case. As a result, if a judge decides to use any particular interpretive method, that method will pull him towards its “most plausible point,” possibly making him deviate from his own ideal point.

When a judge can choose an interpretive method, he selects the one that (taking these deviations into account), among other things, allows him to stay as close as possible to his favored outcome. Thus, any given method is chosen only by judges whose ideal points, roughly speaking, are not too distant from that method’s most plausible point. This behavior creates a selection bias. An interpretive method’s political valence under a regime of free interpretive choice thus differs systematically from what it would look like if that method were mandatory. As a result, one might favor mandating an interpretive method even though one is politically closer to the current practitioners of a different method.

A judge can choose not only which interpretive method to use but also whether to use the same method from case to case. This Article argues that an individual judge’s choice of interpretive method does not usually substantially affect the methods that other judges use. Therefore, even though ideologically motivated judges (or litigation groups) might want to make the method they prefer in most cases mandatory for everyone, it can often be rational for these judges to deviate from that preferred method in instances where a different method would produce a more appealing outcome.

Toward One America: A Vision in Law

The Honorable J. Harvie Wilkinson III

Madison Lecture

In his Madison Lecture, Judge Wilkinson urges a new purpose for American law: the explicit promotion of a stronger sense of national cohesion and unity. He argues that the judicial branch should actively seek to promote this nationalizing purpose and suggests seven different ways for federal courts to do so. He contends further that a nationalizing mission for law is needed at this moment in American history to counteract the demographic divisions and polarizing tendencies of our polity. This purpose need not entail the abdication of traditional values of judicial restraint, should not mean the abandonment of the traditional American credo of unity through pluralism, and must not require the sacrifice of the law’s historic commitment to the preservation of order and the protection of liberty. But the need for a judicial commitment to foster a stronger American identity is clear. The day when courts and judges could be indifferent to the dangers of national fragmentation and disunion is long gone.