Article III Judicial Power and the Federal Arbitration Act
53 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2012 Last revised: 30 Jan 2013
Date Written: August 10, 2012
Arbitrators determine facts and apply law to those facts to bindingly resolve disputes between two or more parties, a task normally reserved for judges. The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) makes agreements to arbitrate disputes enforceable, including disputes that would normally be heard by an Article III judge, such as those arising under federal law or between parties of diverse citizenship. Accordingly, disputes subject to an arbitration agreement brought before a federal court for adjudication must instead, pursuant to the FAA, be resolved by an arbitrator. Yet, while Article III mandates that life-tenured and salary-protected judges decide such disputes, arbitrators — selected and compensated by one or more of the parties — enjoy neither protection. A literal reading of Article III thus suggests that sending federal disputes to non-Article III arbitrators under the FAA is unconstitutional. Although courts and scholars have roundly rejected Article III literalism and have adopted various theories justifying non-Article III adjudication of Article III disputes, whether the FAA is consistent with Article III has received little analysis. This article addresses that gap by applying the leading judicial and scholarly theories of non-Article III adjudication to the FAA, ultimately determining that none of them justify arbitration. While a legislative change could remedy the tension between Article III and the FAA, this article suggests that the better approach is simply to acknowledge the fundamental inconsistency of the FAA with Article III while recognizing that parties may waive their constitutional right to an Article III forum. Given that arbitration is a waiver of Article III rights, however, this article concludes that consent to arbitration must be determined under the standards used to determine waiver of constitutional rights generally, a fundamental shift from current FAA jurisprudence.
Keywords: Federal Arbitration Act, Article III, Arbitration, Federal Courts
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