Judicial Process

Luke P. Norris

The Supreme Court has interpreted the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 (FAA) in a broad way that has allowed firms to widely privatize disputes with workers and consumers. The resulting expansive growth of American arbitration law has left commentators both concerned about the structural inequalities that permeate the regime and in search of an effective limiting principle. This Article develops such a limiting principle from the text and history of the FAA itself. The Article reinterprets the text and history of section 1 of the statute, which, correctly read, excludes individual employee-employer disputes from the statute’s coverage. The Article argues that section 1, though targeted at employees, is based on a parity principle that holds that the state has reason to regulate and limit the enforcement of arbitration agreements where deep economic power imbalances exist between the parties— that is, where relative parity is lacking. The parity principle underlying section 1 can best be understood through the lens of Progressive-Era thought at the time of the FAA’s enactment that focused on the regulatory responsibility of the state, through public adjudication and legislation subject to judicial interpretation, to publicly oversee the resolution of disputes and distribution of rights between parties of highly disparate economic power. This Article develops the logic and theory of the parity principle, and explores its implications for how courts should interpret the FAA and for legislative and administrative reforms targeted at workers and consumers.

Luke P. Norris

The Supreme Court has interpreted the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 (FAA) in a broad way that has allowed firms to widely privatize disputes with workers and consumers. The resulting expansive growth of American arbitration law has left commentators both concerned about the structural inequalities that permeate the regime and in search of an effective limiting principle. This Article develops such a limiting principle from the text and history of the FAA itself. The Article reinterprets the text and history of section 1 of the statute, which, correctly read, excludes individual employee-employer disputes from the statute’s coverage. The Article argues that section 1, though targeted at employees, is based on a parity principle that holds that the state has reason to regulate and limit the enforcement of arbitration agreements where deep economic power imbalances exist between the parties— that is, where relative parity is lacking. The parity principle underlying section 1 can best be understood through the lens of Progressive-Era thought at the time of the FAA’s enactment that focused on the regulatory responsibility of the state, through public adjudication and legislation subject to judicial interpretation, to publicly oversee the resolution of disputes and distribution of rights between parties of highly disparate economic power. This Article develops the logic and theory of the parity principle, and explores its implications for how courts should interpret the FAA and for legislative and administrative reforms targeted at workers and consumers.

Keith E. Whittington

Response to Tara Leigh Grove, The Power of "So-Called Judges", 93 N.Y.U. L. Rev. Online 14 (2018).

President Trump’s rhetoric has raised fears that the administration might defy a judicial order or take other steps to subvert the authority and independence of the judiciary. Trump’s rhetoric is, to be sure, worrisome. The authority of the American courts to adhere to the rule of law cannot be taken for granted. In moments of extreme conflict between the courts and elected officials, it might be expected that politicians will seek to curb the power of the courts to obstruct their political and policy goals. American courts can now boast hard-won bipartisan support for their authority. Courts can likely weather the storm in a conflict with the President if the broader range of political elites, including those within the Republican Party, continue to see that a powerful and independent judiciary is in their long-term political interest.

Stephen I. Vladeck

Response to Nancy Gertner, The "Lower" Federal Courts: Judging in the Time of Trump, 93 N.Y.U. L. Rev. Online 7 (2018).

Shirin Sinnar

Response to Aziz Z. Huq, Democratic Erosion and the Courts: Comparative Perspectives, 93 N.Y.U. L. Rev. Online 21 (2018)

Oversight institutions within the executive branch can play an important role in checking executive power. But the independence and efficacy of these institutions depend on unwritten conventions that are now under threat.

David Lyle

Response to Tara Leigh Grove, The Power of "So-Called Judges", 93 N.Y.U. L. Rev. Online 14 (2018).

David Fontana

James Gibson and Michael Nelson have written another compelling paper examining how Americans think about the Supreme Court. Their essential finding is that various versions of criticisms of the Court made by President Donald J. Trump are not substantially undermining public support for the Court. This Reply—prepared for a symposium held at the New York University School of Law—questions how much this and related papers tell us about how people think about the Court when they actually care about the Court. This study and other important ones like it are measuring how people think about the Court when the policy implications of Court decisions are presented to subjects as relatively low. Their findings tell us a lot, but not everything. They do not tell us what happens when passions about the Court are high—precisely the moment when the Court could be at its greatest jeopardy and convincing people to believe in the Court for reasons independent of the policies it delivers is the hardest. We can have confidence about how people think about the Court when they do not care about it, but not how they think about it when they do.

Michael J. Nelson & James L. Gibson

President Trump’s repeated and unsparing criticisms of the federal judiciary provide an opportunity to examine how public critique of the U.S. Supreme Court affects Americans’ willingness to support the institution. We report the results of an experiment embedded in a nationally-representative survey of Americans that varied in both the source (President Trump or distinguished law professors) and content (legal or political) of the criticism aimed at the Court. Our results—perhaps surprising to many—demonstrate that the greatest decline in support for the Court came among those respondents who learned of criticism by law professors that the Court’s decisions are politicized. The results have important implications for our understanding of the Court’s legitimacy under President Trump.

Aziz Z. Huq

Can national judiciaries play a role in resisting democratic backsliding? This essay explores the role of courts in the context of democratic erosion by examining case studies from South Africa and Colombia that showcase positive models of judicial intervention. Such positive results are not pervasive—Hungary’s and Poland’s experiences, for example, cut in the other direction. But by examining the institutional and political conditions under which national judiciaries have impeded, if not prevented, backsliding, it is possible to gain some insight into how courts can play a role in supporting democratic practice.

 

Pages