The Territorial Reach of Federal Courts
35 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2019 Last revised: 10 May 2019
Date Written: May 7, 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, the maximum constitutional scope of the territorial reach of federal courts 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 empowered to exercise jurisdiction to the full extent that Fifth Amendment due process would support. In this article, I will lay out the various arguments in favor of revising the rules to enable federal courts to exercise personal jurisdiction to the full extent permissible under the Constitution. In doing so, I will address the issues that would arise out of such a move, providing a comprehensive treatment of the matters that would need to be addressed to move the 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: Suggested Citation