Multiple Chancellors: Reforming the National Injunction
66 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2016 Last revised: 29 Jan 2018
Date Written: December 8, 2017
In several recent high-profile cases, federal district judges have issued injunctions that apply across the nation, controlling the defendants’ behavior with respect to nonparties. This Article analyzes the scope of injunctions to restrain the enforcement of a federal statute, regulation, or order. This analysis shows the consequences of the national injunction: more forum shopping, worse judicial decisionmaking, a risk of conflicting injunctions, and tension with other doctrines and practices of the federal courts.
This Article shows that the national injunction is a recent development in the history of equity. There was a structural shift at the Founding from a single-chancellor model to a multiple-chancellor model, but the vulnerabilities in the latter did not become visible until the mid- to late twentieth century, when there were changes in how judges thought about legal challenges and invalid laws. Only with those changes — only in the second half of the twentieth century — did the national injunction emerge.
This Article proposes a single clear rule for the scope of injunctions against federal defendants. A federal court should give what might be called a “plaintiff-protective injunction,” enjoining the defendant’s conduct only with respect to the plaintiff. No matter how important the question and no matter how important the value of uniformity, a federal court should not award a national injunction. This rule is based on equitable principles and on the scope of the “judicial Power” granted by the Constitution of the United States.
Keywords: equity, federal courts, remedies
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