On the Efficient Deployment of Rules and Standards to Define Federal Jurisdiction

Article excerpt

Congress and the federal courts have traditionally adopted rules, as opposed to standards, to establish the boundaries of federal district court jurisdiction. More recently, the Supreme Court has strayed from this path in two areas: federal question jurisdiction and admiralty jurisdiction. Commentators have generally supported the use of discretion in determining federal question jurisdiction, but they have not recognized the relationship to the rule-standard distinction, nor more importantly have they considered the importance of where discretion enters the jurisdictional calculus. This Article argues that predictability and efficiency make it normatively desirable to have rules predominate jurisdictional boundaries and thus to leave standards-through discretion-to dominate the landscape of abstention. It also argues that the effect of a standard-based jurisdictional boundary may be substantially replicated-to the extent that the metric is the ultimate question of whether the case will be heard in federal court-by having a rule determine the jurisdictional boundary and then giving the federal court discretion to abstain from exercising that jurisdiction, where the courts' discretionary standard for abstention in the second setting closely resembles the standard used to define the jurisdictional boundary in the first setting. Given this substantial equivalence, migration of the standard from the jurisdictional boundary to abstention is normatively desirable.

INTRODUCTION ............................................................................. 510

I. RULES AND STANDARDS AS LEGAL INSTRUMENTS ............... 520

II. CATEGORIZING RULES AND STANDARDS IN FEDERAL JURISDICTION .................................................................... 524

A. Unpacking Federal Jurisdictional Analysis ........... 524

B. Identifying Rules and Standards in the Context of Federal Jurisdiction .............................. 527

III. THE DESIRABILITY OF MIGRATING STANDARDS AWAY FROM JURISDICTIONAL BOUNDARIES .................................. 528

A. The Costs and Benefits of Rules and Standards in Federal Jurisdiction ......................... 529

1. Efficiency .................................................... 529

2. Constraining or Empowering Lower Courts ............................................... 533

B. Migrating Standard-Like Considerations to an Abstention Stage ........................................... 540

IV. RESHAPING FEDERAL QUESTION AND FEDERAL ADMIRALTY JURISDICTION ................................................. 544

A. Federal Question Jurisdiction ................................ 544

1. The Boundary as Currently Defined ........... 545

2. Revising the Jurisdiction ............................ 550

3. Evaluation ................................................... 552

B. Federal Admiralty Jurisdiction .............................. 556

1. The Boundary as Currently Defined ........... 556

2. Revising the Jurisdiction ............................ 559

3. Evaluation ................................................... 560

CONCLUSION ................................................................................ 560

INTRODUCTION

The Supreme Court has been inconsistent as to whether to use categorical rules or ad hoc standards to resolve questions of federal jurisdiction. In recent years, the Supreme Court has confirmed the importance of standards in defining some boundaries of federal jurisdiction. In 2005, the Court in Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing reaffirmed that the federal question jurisdiction of the federal courts extends beyond causes of action ground in federal law to causes of action that sound in state law yet incorporate by reference substantial issues of federal law.1 The Court explained that a bright-line rule could not resolve the question of whether federal question jurisdiction exists. …