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How to Rig the Federal Courts


David S. Law


Washington University in Saint Louis - School of Law; Washington University in Saint Louis - Department of Political Science

January 29, 2011

Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 99, p. 779, 2011
Washington U. School of Law Working Paper No. 10-03-04

Abstract:     
The organizational structure of a judicial system has systematic implications for the ideological slant of judicial policymaking. These implications are, however, rarely discussed and poorly understood. This Article uses the prospect of court-rigging to illustrate both the impact of institutional design on judicial policymaking and the perils of taking institutional design for granted.

Political leaders often pursue a form of entrenchment by attempting to imbue the courts with an enduring ideological bias. But the most familiar strategies for achieving this type of entrenchment - namely, court-packing and gerrymandering - are doomed to enjoy only limited success in the context of the Federal Judiciary. Comparative analysis of the judiciary’s organizational structure, by contrast, highlights the existence of design vulnerabilities that could be exploited to greater effect. Examination of the Japanese judiciary in particular suggests that a more effective strategy would be to restructure the federal courts by delegating power over sensitive policy and personnel decisions to ideologically reliable, self-replicating agents who are insulated from the effects of regime change.

Unlike conventional court-packing strategies, this approach can be implemented in ways that are not merely consistent with the requirements of Article III, but that actually exploit those very requirements for even greater effect. Specific implementation mechanisms discussed in this Article include the creation of a new intermediate appellate court with the ability to select its own members; the introduction of procedural rules that would effectively restrict the Supreme Court’s appellate docket; and a comprehensive overhaul of the law clerk system that would forge the clerks into a collective body, establish their independence from the judges whom they nominally serve, and subject them to a combination of bureaucratic supervision and oversight by the legal academy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 58

Keywords: judicial behavior, institutional design, law clerks, national court of appeals, Japan, Japanese judiciary, court-rigging, Rule of Four, entrenchment, judicial ideology, judicial appointments, court-packing, gerrymandering

JEL Classification: K00, K40

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Date posted: March 30, 2010 ; Last revised: August 4, 2011

Suggested Citation

Law, David S., How to Rig the Federal Courts (January 29, 2011). Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 99, p. 779, 2011; Washington U. School of Law Working Paper No. 10-03-04. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1578403

Contact Information

David S. Law (Contact Author)
Washington University in Saint Louis - School of Law ( email )
Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States
314-266-9698 (Phone)
314-935-5356 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.davidlaw.ca
Washington University in Saint Louis - Department of Political Science ( email )
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States
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