Federal Courts

Course Information

Registration Information

Meeting Times

Day Time Location
MON, TUE, WED, THU 10:30 - 11:20 am TNH 3.124

Evaluation Method

Type Date Time Location
Final December 7, 2009 1:30 pm A-Z in 2.124


This classic 4-credit course deals with controversial material touching upon the activism of powerful courts. It is an advanced course in the structural Constitution of the United States and in public law. (It is not a course in federal civil procedure.) Because of the massiveness and complexity of Supreme Court jurisprudence on the problems the course raises, the course focuses on selected key topics. The aim of this study, however, remains to deepen the understanding of the American dual-law, dual-court system, within a union of states, under a federal government of separated but coextensive national powers. The course opens with an exploration of judicial federal lawmaking power, moving on to doctrines of supremacy and preemption. It considers the relation between sources of law and adjudicatory power. Against these backgrounds it deals with acute clashes of power, examining the powers of the federal and state courts to interfere with each other's jurisdiction; the powers of the political branches to control the judiciary; the power of American courts to trump legislatures; the power of the Supreme Court to trump state courts; the power of federal courts to try cases against both state and federal governments; and judicial power to govern by decree. Throughout, the emphasis is on public-law litigation; the remedial powers of federal courts; and constraints on exercises of judicial power. This course is recommended for students seeking to empower themselves to counsel and/or litigate in any area subject to federal governance: intellectual property (copyright, patent, and trademark), broadcasting law, civil rights, constitutional law, securities regulation, employment law, social security, antitrust, admiralty, taxation, bankruptcy, immigration, environmental and other administrative law, terrorism, international law, and so forth, or in areas on which federal law has certain preemptive impacts, like banking, pension, and insurance law; or in areas in which federal litigation occurs under state law, notably in environmental torts, mass disasters, and products liability. It is, of course, a required course for those interested in judicial clerkships, state or federal, and is recommended also for those planning to work in, or to represent clients regulated by, a federal agency or department. The course is also helpful to those who would like a better understanding of the extraordinary powers of American courts, and to those who are concerned about political and social issues surrounding the work of federal courts. The readings are interesting classic or current Supreme Court cases arising across the spectrum of substantive areas of federal law. For this reason, the course gives the student a chance to gain useful general background in a range of areas of substantive federal law. (But no prior knowledge of any area of federal law is needed or expected.) Because the cases are typically Supreme Court cases, they are important in themselves, unlike, for example, the typical squib case in a first-year contracts casebook. Many of the federal courts cases are part of the shared, permanent information of the whole profession, all over the country, intrinsically worth the student's time. Prerequisites: Enrollment in this course is limited to second and third year students. This is because the course presumes a grounding in basic constitutional law, civil procedure, tort law, and criminal procedure. In other words, the course may not be elected in the first year, or by a transfer student or other student who has not completed basic courses in constitutional law, civil procedure, torts, and criminal law.