Federal Courts

Class Unique: 28400

Federal Courts is an essential practical tool for future litigators and future judicial law clerks, but it is also a genuinely 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 our legal system distributes power within the federal government and between the federal government and the States.  It examines this distribution of power primarily from a judicial perspective.  In particular, principles that shape and limit the power of federal courts determine not just how but whether those courts (rather than other participants in our system of government) can resolve disputes, ranging from the relatively mundane to the gravest allegations of injustice. 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 are essential for cabining or unleashing federal judicial power. Three key themes will recur throughout the course:

(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 identify and respect 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,
  • judicial federalism, including the reciprocal obligations of state and federal courts to federal and state law, respectively, and
  • habeas corpus, primarily federal review of state-court convictions.

The assigned case book is the seventh edition of Hart & Wechsler's The Federal Courts and The Federal System (2015) and the corresponding 2019 supplement. You do not need to buy the Seventh Edition of Chemerinsky's student treatise, Federal Jurisdiction (2016); it is an optional aid that students often find helpful.   


Class Details

Meeting Days Time Location
Monday, Wednesday 5:45 - 7:50 pm TNH 2.140
Evaluation Method Date Time Alpha Range Room
Final 12/18/19 8:30 am 2.137

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)
  • Hart and Wechsler's The Federal Courts and the Federal System, 7th, 2019 Supplement - Fallon et al.
      West/Foundation Press , edition: 2019 Supp.
      ISBN: 9781642429268   (required)