Judicial Process

Andrea Roth

Fueled by police reliance on offender databases and advances in crime scene recovery, a new type of prosecution has emerged in which the government’s case turns on a match statistic explaining the significance of a “cold hit” between the defendant’s DNA profile and the crime-scene evidence. Such cases are unique in that the strength of the match depends on evidence that is almost entirely quantifiable. Despite the growing number of these cases, the critical jurisprudential questions they raise about the proper role of probabilistic evidence, and courts’ routine misapprehension of match statistics, no framework—including a workable standard of proof—currently exists for determining sufficiency of the evidence in such a case. This Article is the first to interrogate the relationship between “reasonable doubt” and statistical certainty in the context of cold hit DNA matches. Examining the concepts of “actual belief” and “moral certainty” underlying the “reasonable doubt” test, I argue that astronomically high source probabilities, while fallible, are capable of meeting the standard for conviction. Nevertheless, the starkly numerical nature of “pure cold hit” evidence raises unique issues that require courts to apply a quantified threshold for sufficiency purposes. I suggest as a starting point—citing recent juror studies and the need for uniformity and systemic legitimacy—that the threshold should be no less favorable to the defendant than a 99.9% source probability.

Joshua S. Stillman

This Note argues against the use of the prudential political question doctrine (PPQD), as exemplified by the Vieth v. Jubelirer plurality opinion. In Vieth, the Supreme Court avoided formulating a standard for adjudicating the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering due to a claimed lack of a “discernible and manageable standard.” This meant, according to the plurality, that no proposed doctrinal test was both concrete enough to be workably deployed by lower courts and discernible enough in the constitutional text, history, and structure, inter alia. Although the Vieth plurality opinion presents itself as based on universally applicable metadoctrine determining what is and is not a discernible and manageable doctrinal test, this Note argues the Court’s use of the PPQD is ultimately based on a gestalt prudential judgment about the wisdom of intervention in the particular area of partisan gerrymandering.

This Note then argues that the PPQD leads to negative consequences for future litigants and judicial legitimacy. The PPQD sends litigants on a wild goose chase for a perfect doctrinal standard, when it seems clear that no standard will satisfy the Vieth plurality. It also invites litigants to argue about what a discernible and manageable doctrinal test is in the abstract, rather than to address the particular legal issue at hand. These diversions insulate the judiciary from legitimate criticism of the grounds of its decisions. This Note then compares the PPQD to another option for judicial avoidance: a merits standard that is almost impossible for plaintiffs to meet in practice, such as rational basis review. This Note concludes that a stringent merits standard is a superior mechanism for judicial avoidance because it does not carry the same high costs for litigants and judicial legitimacy as the PPQD. Additionally, it allows the Court to exit from active adjudication of an issue while still preserving its ability to intervene in egregious cases.

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.

Christina T. Prusak

Alberto Fujimori is the first democratically elected leader to be tried and convicted of human rights violations in the domestic courts of his own country. As satisfaction with foregoing prosecution and granting amnesty in exchange for more peaceful democratic transition has fallen increasingly out of favor, Fujimori’s trial comes at an opportune time to reevaluate the role of criminal trials in national reconciliation and transitional justice. In this Note, I argue that Fujimori’s human rights trial demonstrates that head-of-state trials, particularly domestic ones, can valuably contribute to larger transitional justice projects, despite their inherent limitations and challenges. Situating my analysis within the transitional justice and show trial literature, I analyze both procedurally and substantively how effectively Fujimori’s human rights trial has navigated its “constitutive paradox,” or tension between strict adherence to the rule of law and the extrajudicial objective of delivering a coherent moral message, inherent in transitional criminal proceedings. I conclude that the trial demonstrates that courts can effectively navigate these paradoxes, even in the midst of institutional weakness and societal cleavages. Moreover, I suggest that domestic tribunals may be particularly well suited to navigate the constitutive paradox of transitional trials.

Kevin C. Walsh

Courts often hold legislation unconstitutional, but nearly always only part of the statute offends. The problem of partial unconstitutionality is therefore pervasive and persistent. Yet the exclusive doctrinal tool for dealing with this problem—severability doctrine—is deeply flawed. To make matters worse, severability doctrine is purportedly necessary for any workable system of judicial review. The accepted view is that severance saves: A court faced with a partially unconstitutional law must sever and excise the unconstitutional provisions or applications so that the constitutional remainder can be enforced going forward. Absent severance and excision, a law must fall in its entirety. This excision-based understanding of judicial review is supposedly traceable to Marbury v. Madison. In fact, this attribution is anachronistic. Moreover, the prevailing view is wrong about the distinctive function
of modern severability doctrine, which is not to save, but to destroy. This Article retrieves the original approach to partial unconstitutionality and develops a proposal for implementing a version of that approach. The proposal, displacement without inferred fallback law, is simultaneously ambitious and modest. It is ambitious because it proposes a shift in the general framework for judicial review in every case; it is modest because the proposed shift would change case outcomes in only a small set of highly consequential cases.

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.

The Honorable Marsha S. Berzon

In this speech, delivered as the annual James Madison Lecture, Judge Marsha Berzon discusses the availability of judicial remedies for violations of the Constitution. Judge Berzon reflects on the federal courts’ tradition of allowing litigants to proceed directly under the Constitution—that is, without a statutorily based cause of action. This is a tradition that extends much further than the mid-twentieth century cases most commonly associated with affirmative constitutional litigation— Brown, Bolling, & Bivens, for example—and has its roots in cases from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Against this long historical tradition of courts recognizing nonexpress causes of action for violations of the Constitution, Judge Berzon surveys the modern Supreme Court’s jurisprudence, a jurisprudence that sometimes requires constitutional litigants to base their claims on the same sort of clear congressional intent to permit judicial redress now required before courts will recognize so-called “implied” statutory causes of action. Judge Berzon suggests that requiring litigants seeking to enforce constitutional norms to point to evidence of congressional intent regarding the availability of judicial redress misapplies separation-of-powers concerns.

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.
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.
Vinay Harpalani

This Note examines judicial review and oversight of state educational adequacy remedies in light of education budget cuts proposed during the recent recession. Educational adequacy litigation has been relatively successful in establishing children’s affirmative right to education under state constitutions, but due to separation of powers concerns, most state courts have been quite deferential to legislatures in reviewing remedies for constitutional violations. This leaves many schools underfunded and under-resourced in spite of successful adequacy litigation—a problem that is aggravated during times of recession, when many states face pressure to cut education budgets. This Note examines these issues using functional separation of powers theory, comparative analysis of state and federal government functioning, and pragmatic considerations related to remedial compliance. It argues that state courts should apply heightened judicial review to ensure remedial compliance and particularly to review state education budget cuts that may disrupt educational adequacy remedies. In this way, state courts can be more vigilant in maintaining educational adequacy.