Federal Courts

Federal Courts is an essential practical tool for future litigators and future judicial law clerks, but it is also an exciting field of academic study for any law student. This course investigates one of the most fascinating and often misunderstood features of American law: how power is distributed across our entire legal system, both federal and state. In particular, principles that shape and limit the power of federal courts can determine not just how courts resolve grave allegations of injustice, but whether courts can even consider them at all. These doctrines may seem dry at first glance, but their consequences are enormous for the law, for society, and for individual clients.

The doctrines that make up Federal Courts jurisprudence come, first and foremost, from Article III of the Constitution, which is the chief text for the entire semester. Whether imposed by the Constitution, a federal statute, rules of procedure, federal common law, or some other authority, these doctrines ultimately allocate responsibility and power among federal judges and the political branches, and among federal courts and the states. Throughout the class, three key themes will recur: (1) separation of powers, asking how to ensure a proper role for the federal courts vis-à-vis the other branches of the federal government; (2) federalism, asking how to ensure a proper role for the federal courts vis-à-vis state governments; and (3) the rule of law, asking how all the stakeholders (including the Supreme Court, lower courts, state courts, state and federal executive and legislative officials, attorneys, and citizens) can ensure that there is a principled basis for granting or witholding power.

Specific topics of this course include

  • justiciability doctrines, such as standing, ripeness, mootness, and political questions
  • the subject-matter jurisdiction of the federal courts, with a particular focus on arising-under jurisdiction
  • the role and jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court
  • abstention doctrines, whereby federal courts decline to exercise jurisdiction in certain contexts
  • sovereign immunity, particularly for state governments in light of the Eleventh Amendment
  • suits challenging official action, including the available remedies against federal and state governments and governmental actors
  • the creation and role of non-Article III courts, including administrative agencies, and
  • judicial federalism, including the reciprocal obligations of states and federal courts to federal and state law, respectively.

The assigned case book is the seventh edition of Hart & Wechler's The Federal Courts and The Federal System (2015). You do not need to buy the annual supplement, as anything you need to know that is not included in the main case book will be provided separately. Finally, the Seventh Edition of Chemerinsky's student treatise, Federal Jurisdiction (2016), is an optional but not required aid.  


Class Details

Meeting Days Time Location
Monday, Wednesday 5:45 - 7:45 pm TNH 2.140
Exam Type Date Time Alpha Range Room
Final 5/9/18 1:30 pm A-Z
2.139

Additional Information

Course Type
Grading Method
Pass/Fail Allowed
Will use floating mean GPA if applicable

Textbooks

  • Hart & Wechsler's The Federal Courts and The Federal System - Fallon et al.
      West/Foundation Press , edition: 7th (2015)
      ISBN: 978-1-60930-427-0   (required)
  • Federal Jurisdiction - Chemerinsky
      Wolters Kluwer , edition: 7th (2016)
      ISBN: 978-1-4548-7661-8   (optional)