How to Rig the Federal Courts

58 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2010 Last revised: 4 Aug 2011

See all articles by David S. Law

David S. Law

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law; University of California, Irvine School of Law

Date Written: January 29, 2011


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.

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

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:

David S. Law (Contact Author)

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Hong Kong


University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

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