Judicial Process

Tara Mikkilineni

This Note explores whether “constitutional default rules,” or judicially crafted constitutional rules designed to spur legislative action, can generate interbranch cooperation in the area of criminal procedure. The Note looks at two types of constitutional default rules—the “model” default rule and the “penalty” default rule—in theory and in practice, examining how the Court has employed such rules to generate a dialogue with Congress in order to implement constitutional rights. The Note argues that while there have been notable failures by the Court in using the default rule to elicit a rights-protective legislative reaction (namely, in the case of Miranda v. Arizona) under the right conditions, the constitutional default rule may still be a viable tool for spurring progressive legislative policy and reform of the criminal justice system.

Nancy C. 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.

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.

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.

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.

The Honorable Michael A. Wolff

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.

Benjamin C. Zipursky

This Article offers a new reading of Hart’s classic Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals by rethinking the form of positivism Hart was putting forward. Hart’s separationism was not principally intended as a speculative proposition about the conceptual distinctness of law and morality but as a practical maxim about the need to distinguish what the law is from what the law ought to be. Hart believed that legal interpreters must display truthfulness or veracity about the law, being candid about what it actually says and how far it goes, rather than gilding the content of the law by ascribing to it what one wishes it said. “Practical positivism,” as Professor Zipursky calls it, was Hart’s antidote to the approaches of legal realism and natural law theory gaining ascendancy in American legal theory in the 1950s. Despite all of their differences, both realists and natural law theorists like Fuller treated the task of saying what the law is as inviting decision makers to make the law what it ought to be—“practical perfectionism,” in Zipursky’s terminology. Hart’s great lecture asserted, above all, that practical positivism was superior to practical perfectionism. Drawing upon a variety of contemporary examples, the Article suggests that the practical perfectionism that concerned Hart in 1958 is alive and well today among both conservatives and progressives—on the bench, at the bar, and in the legal academy. Conversely, originalists, textualists, and pragmatic conceptualists are among today’s descendants of practical positivists. The last half of the Article sketches a contemporary defense of practical positivism, adapting a Legal Coherentist framework to bolster Hart’s work against Ronald Dworkin’s criticisms.

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.

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.

The Honorable J. Harvie Wilkinson III

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.

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