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The Increasingly Unflagging Obligation: Federal Jurisdiction after Saudi Basic and Anna Nicole

Stephen I. Vladeck

American University - Washington College of Law

Tulsa Law Review, Vol. 42, 2006

The tension inherent in the study of federal jurisdiction and the federal courts is perhaps best understood as the result of attempts to effectuate two often irreconcilable commands: First, that federal courts are courts of limited subject-matter jurisdiction; second, that they nevertheless have a virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the jurisdiction given them. Increasingly, in recent years, this tension has manifested itself as a sharp divide between the U.S. Supreme Court and the lower federal courts over the scope of various explicit (or implicit) doctrinal and statutory exceptions to the federal jurisdiction conferred by general jurisdictional statutes such as 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332, and 1334. In a pattern that has come to repeat itself time and again, the lower courts have consistently favored applicability of these exceptions, with the Supreme Court, often unanimously, reversing in favor of original federal jurisdiction. This Article explores that trend through the lens of the Supreme Court's 2004 and 2005 Terms, and considers various theories for why the Court may be consistently moving toward a broader conception of federal subject-matter jurisdiction. As the Article concludes, much of what may be behind these decisions is the Supreme Court's frustration with lower-court overreactions to the new jurisdictional formalism that resulted from the Court's 1998 decision in Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, a decision the full effects of which we are still assessing almost a decade later.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 35

Keywords: federal jurisdiction, probate exception, rooker-feldman, formalism, Hamdan

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Date posted: November 6, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Vladeck, Stephen I., The Increasingly Unflagging Obligation: Federal Jurisdiction after Saudi Basic and Anna Nicole. Tulsa Law Review, Vol. 42, 2006. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=942693

Contact Information

Stephen I. Vladeck (Contact Author)
American University - Washington College of Law ( email )
4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States
202-274-4241 (Phone)
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