The Territorial Reach of Federal Courts

37 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2019 Last revised: 15 Aug 2019

Date Written: July 1, 2019


Federal courts exercise the sovereign authority of the United States when they assert personal jurisdiction over a defendant. As components of the national sovereign, federal courts’ maximum territorial reach is determined by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, which permits jurisdiction over persons with sufficient minimum contacts with the United States and over property located therein. Why, then, are federal courts limited to the territorial reach of the states in which they sit when they exercise personal jurisdiction in most cases? There is no constitutional or statutory mandate that so constrains the federal judicial reach. Rather, it is by operation of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure — specifically Rule 4(k) — that federal courts are not ordinarily permitted to exercise jurisdiction to the full extent that Fifth Amendment due process would support. This Article will lay out the various arguments in favor of revising the Federal Rules to enable federal courts to exercise personal jurisdiction to the full extent permissible under the Constitution. In doing so, this Article will address the issues that would arise out of such a revision and provide comprehensive treatment of the matters that would need to be addressed in order to move federal courts in this direction.

Keywords: personal jurisdiction, territorial jurisdiction, federal courts, venue, choice of law, due process, fourteenth amendment, fifth amendment

JEL Classification: K00, K1, K10, K19, K4, K40, K41, K49

Suggested Citation

Spencer, A. Benjamin, The Territorial Reach of Federal Courts (July 1, 2019). Florida Law Review, Vol. 71, 2019, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2019-01, Available at SSRN:

A. Benjamin Spencer (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

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