Federal Courts


Tortious Constructions: Holding Federal Law Enforcement Accountable by Applying the FTCA’s Law Enforcement Proviso over the Discretionary Function Exception

Eric Wang

Courts are reluctant to decide cases alleging abuses by federal law enforcement. This judicial reluctance is largely attributed to the principle of sovereign immunity, which holds that the United States—and therefore the federal government—cannot be sued. However, the sovereign can of its own accord consent to be sued: The federal government provided that consent in 1946 by enacting the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which allows tort suits against the United States. Specifically, a provision of the FTCA—the law enforcement proviso—explicitly states that law enforcement officers are amenable to suit for certain intentional torts. Nevertheless, courts have restricted the proviso’s efficacy through narrow interpretations and undue deference to competing FTCA provisions such as the discretionary function exception.

This Note argues that the law enforcement proviso must be interpreted more broadly to properly hold government officers accountable. It takes on the project of sifting through the FTCA’s complexity and history to articulate why the correct doctrinal approach is to apply the proviso exclusively, superseding any competing provision within the FTCA. It delineates the current spectrum of approaches among the circuit courts, finding that only the Eleventh Circuit has adopted the advocated approach. The Note then justifies this approach under statutory interpretation principles and tort law theory while also considering the practical consequences of a disappearing Bivens remedy. Properly understood, the complexity of the FTCA and the barrier of sovereign immunity fade away: For government activity as intrusive and forceful as law enforcement, a court of law simply must have the ability to hold officers accountable.

Dangerous Citations

Maggie Gardner

This Article considers when optional case citations may do more harm than good. There are valid reasons for citing to non-binding precedent—to promote consistency in the law, for example, or to avoid wasteful redundancy. But unconsidered invocations of non-binding authority may also introduce error into individual opinions and distort the path of the law over time. This Article catalogues such dangerous citations as used in particular by federal district courts citing to other federal district courts with three goals in mind: to help judges use non-binding authority constructively, to help law clerks think critically about their citation practices, and to help readers of judicial opinions question the rhetoric of constraint.

In mapping these problematic uses of non-binding authority, the Article distinguishes between poorly conceived citations and poorly implemented citations. Poorly conceived citations are those for which non-binding precedent is simply not a useful authority. Examples of poorly conceived citations include reliance on prior opinions to establish facts or the content of another sovereign’s laws. Poorly implemented citations are those for which non-binding precedent may be relevant but should be selected and applied with care. Examples of poorly implemented citations include over-extended analogies and reliance on judge-made tests that are misaligned with the question being evaluated. This catalogue of poorly conceived and poorly implemented citations surfaces some common themes, including the need for better-designed tests and the challenges posed by modern research methods. But dangerous citations are not simply a matter of inadvertence, carelessness, or mistake; they may also be deployed for rhetorical purposes, in particular to signal legitimacy and restraint. The Article thus ends with a warning against “performative judging,” or the use of excessive citations to suggest greater constraint than the law in fact provides. Such citations are dangerous not just for the error they may introduce, but also because they obscure judicial choice and the inherently discretionary nature of judging.

Congress’s Article III Power and the Process of Constitutional Change

Christopher Jon Sprigman

Text in Article III of the U.S. Constitution appears to give to Congress authority to make incursions into judicial supremacy, by restricting (or, less neutrally, “stripping”) the jurisdiction of federal courts. Article III gives Congress authority to make “exceptions” to the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction. Article III also gives Congress discretion whether to “ordain and establish” lower federal courts. Congress’s power to create or abolish these courts would seem to include the power to create them but to limit their jurisdiction, and that is how the power has historically been understood.

Is Congress’s power to remove the jurisdiction of federal courts in effect a legislative power to choose the occasions on which federal courts may, and may not, have the final word on the meaning of the Constitution? That is a question on which the Supreme Court has never spoken definitively.

In this Article I argue that Congress, working through the ordinary legislative process, may remove the jurisdiction of federal and even state courts to hear cases involving particular questions of federal law, including cases that raise questions under the Federal Constitution. Understood this way, the implications of Congress’s Article III power are profound. Congress may prescribe, by ordinary legislation, constitutional rules in areas where the meaning of the Constitution is unsettled. Or it may displace otherwise settled constitutional rules by ordinary legislation.

To be clear, Article III does not permit Congress to escape accountability. Rather, Article III gives to Congress the power to choose whether it must answer, in a particular instance, to judges or to voters. Compared with judicial review, the political constraint is, of course, less formal and predictable. But that does not mean that the political constraint is weak. A successful exercise of its Article III power will require a majority in Congress, and, in most instances, a President, who agree both on the substantive policy at issue and on the political viability of overriding the public expectation that Congress should face a judicial check. In such instances, we should welcome the exercise of Congress’s Article III power. In the push-and-pull between judicially-enforced constitutional rules and the desires of current democratic majorities, the potential for Congress’s exercise of its Article III power helps legitimate both constitutionalism and judicial review.