Rhetoric versus Reality in Arbitration Jurisprudence: How the Supreme Court Flaunts and Flunks Contracts (and Why Contracts Teachers Need Not Teach the Cases)
Lawrence A. Cunningham
George Washington University
April 13, 2011
75 LAW & CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS 129-159 (2012)
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 547
GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 547
Supreme Court rhetoric about the role of contracts and contract law in arbitration jurisprudence differs sharply from the reality of its applications. In the name of contracts, the Court administers a self-declared national policy favoring arbitration, a policy directly benefiting the judicial branch of government. This often puts the Court’s preferences ahead of those of contracting parties while declaring its mission as solely to enforce contracts in accordance with contract law. The Court thus cloaks in the rhetoric of volition a policy in tension with constitutionally-pedigreed access to justice and venerable principles of federalism.
This Article documents the rhetoric-reality gap and explores why it exists and why it matters. The rhetoric-reality gap is attributable in part to a dilemma the Court created for itself: its national policy favoring arbitration is constitutionally-suspect unless people assent, yet letting people make what contracts they wish would prevent implementing the national policy. The jurisprudence diminishes the Court’s legitimacy, tempts defiance, creates doctrinal incoherence, and poses other costs. This Article calls for reconciling these conflicting positions rather than sustaining the status quo: the Court should either give up its national policy favoring arbitration and truly respect freedom of contract or come clean about its national policy’s real implications and acknowledge its narrow conception of contract and contract law.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 41
Keywords: arbitration, Supreme Court, contracts, contract law, freedom of contract, interpretation, rhetoric, access to justice, national policy, judicial power, federalism, jurisprudence
JEL Classification: K0, K1, K12
Date posted: April 14, 2011 ; Last revised: May 1, 2013