Skip to main content

On the Efficient Deployment of Rules and Standards to Define Federal Jurisdiction

Posted by on Friday, March 30, 2012 in Articles, Volume 65, Volume 65, Number 2, Volumes.

Congress and the federal courts have traditionally adopted rules, as opposed to standards, to establish the boundaries of federal district court jurisdiction. More recently, the Supreme Court has strayed from this path in two areas: federal question jurisdiction and admiralty jurisdiction. Commentators have generally supported the use of discretion in determining federal question jurisdiction, but they have not recognized the relationship to the rule-standard distinction, nor more importantly have they considered the importance of where discretion enters the jurisdictional calculus. This Article argues that predictability and efficiency make it normatively desirable to have rules predominate jurisdictional boundaries and thus to leave standards—through discretion—to dominate the landscape of abstention. It also argues that the effect of a standard-based jurisdictional boundary may be substantially replicated—to the extent that the metric is the ultimate question of whether the case will be heard in federal court—by having a rule determine the jurisdictional boundary and then giving the federal court discretion to abstain from exercising that jurisdiction, where the courts’ discretionary standard for abstention in the second setting closely resembles the standard used to define the jurisdictional boundary in the first setting. Given this substantial equivalence, migration of the standard from the jurisdictional boundary to abstention is normatively desirable.