The Psychology of Procedural Justice in the Federal Courts
Hastings Law Journal, Vol. 63, No. 127, 2011
Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-05-21
53 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2012
Date Written: June 10, 2012
This interdisciplinary article examines our federal court system from the perspective of the psychology of procedural justice — that is, subjective perceptions about the fairness of process. The article considers some of the central features of civil litigation from the standpoint of the psychology of procedural justice, highlighting some of the aspects of the system that are likely to increase perceptions of fair process, and exploring, conversely, rules and practices that may decrease those perceptions. The article focuses on procedural justice in two contexts: basic rules and practices of civil procedure and more complex federal court doctrines that involve the allocation of judicial business between the states and the federal government. In both cases, procedural justice is considered from the perspective of litigants involved in civil disputes; in the latter case, the analysis broadens to encompass the procedural justice experiences of other important actors in civil litigation, including judges, legislators, and state executives. This article argues that, while legal academics have typically analyzed the fairness of federal procedure and rules through an analysis of procedural due process, the psychology of procedural justice provides an important and potentially wider perspective from which to consider the procedural fairness of our legal system. Because perceptions about fair process are critical to assessments of legitimacy and deference to legal authority, scholars in both law and psychology should devote greater attention — both empirical and theoretical — to the potential procedural justice effects of specific legal rules and doctrine.
Keywords: federal courts, procedural justice, law and psychology, civil procedure, diversity jurisdiction, abstention, procedural due process
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