The Article II Safeguards of Federal Jurisdiction
69 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2011 Last revised: 24 Mar 2012
Date Written: March 18, 2011
Jurisdiction stripping has long been treated as a battle between Congress and the federal judiciary. Scholars have thus overlooked the important (and surprising) role that the executive branch has played in these jurisdictional struggles. I seek to fill that void. Drawing on two strands of social science research, I argue that the executive branch has a strong incentive to use its constitutional authority over the enactment and enforcement of federal law to oppose jurisdiction-stripping measures. Notably, this structural argument has considerable historical support. The executive branch has repeatedly opposed jurisdiction-stripping proposals in Congress. That has been true even when the President was otherwise deeply critical of the federal courts’ constitutional jurisprudence (such as during the Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan Administrations). Furthermore, even when jurisdiction-stripping measures do become law, the executive branch controls the enforcement of that law. The Department of Justice has repeatedly used this enforcement authority to urge the courts to interpret jurisdictional restrictions narrowly in order to preserve jurisdiction over constitutional claims. This executive branch practice has important implications for the Obama Justice Department, as it litigates cases brought by current and former detainees in the war on terror. One provision of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 appears to preclude any court from examining a detainee’s challenge to his “conditions of confinement” during his detention. The executive branch could substantially limit the impact of this law by conceding (as it has in prior administrations) that the federal courts retain jurisdiction over constitutional claims.
Keywords: federal courts, constitutional law, jurisdiction stripping, executive branch
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