Volume 110, Issue 6, April 2001
Saturday, 31 March 2001
110 Yale L.J. 947 (2001)
May Congress regulate the procedures by which state courts adjudicate claims arising under state law? Recently, Congress not only has considered several bills that would do so, but has enacted a few of them. This Article concludes that such laws exceed Congress's constitutional authority.
There are serious questions as to whether a regulation of court procedures qualifies as a regulation of interstate commerce under the Commerce Clause. Even assuming, however, that it does qualify as such, the Tenth Amendment reserves the power to regulate court procedures to the states. Members of the Founding generation used conflict-of-laws language to describe a state court's obligation to enforce federal law: A state court enforces federal law as it would the law of a foreign sovereign. Under traditional conflicts principles that precede the Founding of the Union, a forum state has exclusive authority to regulate the procedures by which its courts enforce rights of action before it. It is true that the Supreme Court's doctrine regarding whether state courts must enforce federal claims rejects the conflicts paradigm. But it is equally true that its doctrine regarding the procedures by which state courts enforce federal claims embraces the conflicts paradigm. Applying traditional conflicts principles governing matters of procedure, Congress has no authority to regulate the procedures by which state courts adjudicate state law claims.
This understanding of the Constitution has prudential value. Injecting isolated federal rules of procedural into fifty cohesive state procedural codes could create myriad procedural and substantive anomalies. Exclusive state control of state court enforcement of state law rights also serves the traditional normative values of federalism.