Course - Law


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The jurisdiction of the federal courts deals with the distribution of power between the states and the federal government, as well as the allocation of power among the three branches of government.  The intricacies of federalism are revealed when examining the distinct problem of determining the respective spheres of operation of federal and state law, as well as the scope of power of each branch of the federal government.  As is the case with Civil Rights Litigation, this course will address current controversial issues that are at the forefront of the political and legal landscape.  We will discuss and explore questions like: Can the president pardon himself? Can the Senate refuse to seat an appointed senator?  Can the president establish criminal tribunals that follow unorthodox procedural rules?  Can Congress or the Executive Branch remove jurisdiction from the federal courts in cases such as those involving enemy combatants?  Can the Court intervene and/or offer relief in any of these cases? Can the Supreme Court hear cases that involve issues that are of critical interest to the United States? If so, what remedies can it order?  Can a citizen challenge congressional actions – such as the so-called “bailout” law, or the President’s power to start a war?  We will have at least two guest speakers addressing jurisdictional issues with respect to sovereign Indian tribes, and the role of Habeas Corpus remedies within a federalist structure.


Federal Courts are the product of history, politics, and shifting theoretical understanding of law and legal institutions.  The law addressing federal courts thus bears profound significance for the very nature and character of the American system, which law often reflects the ideological perspectives on what our governmental structure should be and how it should function.  

The course will examine the constitutional and statutory limits on the federal judicial powers and how these limits shape our system.  We will explore congressional power to control the jurisdiction of the federal courts; the federal courts' review of both state court rulings and lower court decisions.  We will inquire into the validity of self-imposed abstention doctrines, as well as the consequences these present for drawing the line on access to a federal court; Article I tribunals; permissible congressional control of the original and appellate jurisdiction; the remedial arsenal of the federal judiciary; abstention; sovereign immunity; and federal review of state court decisions.


The underlying theme is the study of the powers of, and restraints upon, the federal judiciary, derived largely but not exclusively from Article III.  The concept of judicial supremacy, as well as  the role of federal courts in a representative democracy underlies most of federal courts law.



Required: Wells, Marshall and Yackle's Cases and Materials on Federal Courts (American Casebook Series®) 9780314156143
Availability: In Stock



 Erwin Chemerinsky: Federal Jurisdiction Treatise, latest Edition


Course Format

Discussion / Expert panels

Written Assignments

None. There is a potential for student presentations should there be student interest, and depending on the size of the class.

Type of Exam

There will be one final, open-book, open-note final exam

Basis for grading

Exam and Class Participation

Additional Comments

Class participation in critical for this course.  You must be willing to participate actively in class discussions to take this course.  This is an intellectually challenging course because the materials we explore are themselves challenging.  However, if you are willing to put effort into engaging intellectually with the materials and class discussions, you will walk away with an enlightened comprehension of the power of the federal courts.  The rewards you will reap from this course will serve you well in any area of practice as well as provide you with a much richer and textured understanding of our system of government and the role of Alaw@ within it.

Note: I have selected a new textbook for this class.  It is more focused, less abstract, presents answerable hypotheticals (as opposed to rhetorical ones), and contains fewer notes than the textbook I have used in previous years.  In addition, I expect this class to focus more on concrete jurisdictional problems and less on theoretical aspects of federal courts law.  Finally, I have added a small component on comparative law  a brief survey of the federalism problems confronting the European Union as its autonomous, sovereign members approach the ratification of the European Constitution.  Can our federalism shed light on the problems confronting the EU?


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