Federal Courts and the Federal System

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Course Number:
LAW 625

Credit Hours:
3 Credit Hours

Prerequisites: RCC*. During the past ten years, many of the U.S. Supreme Court's most controversial decisions have fallen within the doctrinal areas encompassed by this course. By mandate in both constitutional and statutory law, the federal courts are courts of "limited," not general, jurisdiction and are subject to numerous restrictions on the exercise of their power. Purposes asserted for these restrictions include protecting the constitutional allocation of power between the National and State governments – federalism – and the allocation of power between the coordinate branches of the National government -- separation of powers. These two foundational, organizing principles repeatedly surface as justifications for judicial outcomes. In particular, we examine closely the jurisdictional prerequisites of maintaining a case in federal court, including the doctrines requiring proper standing and forbidding the presentation of an unripe or moot suit. We inquire into the complicated interrelationship of federal and state law, including: federal common law, the obligation of state courts to apply and obey governing federal law, the weight of state courts' decisions on federal law questions, and the appellate power of the U.S. Supreme Court over State courts. We delve into the various legal strategies that can be employed to oust an otherwise properly filed case from federal court, including abstention and the Eleventh Amendment, and examine the Eleventh’s intersection with the Tenth Amendment and the Supremacy Clause. And we explore procedural aspects of suing the governments – States (under s. 1983) and the Federal Government via a Bivens action. The course is strongly recommended for those seeking a litigation career, and for those desirous of serving as federal judicial law clerks.

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