SMU Law Review


The study of federal jurisdiction has traditionally involved little more than a combined examination of judicial doctrine and policy. Under this approach, scholars study how the Supreme Court has decided to shape the jurisdiction of the federal courts, and the policies the Court believes jurisdictional doctrine should reflect. Hardly ever have scholars studied the legislative purposes sought to be achieved by federal jurisdiction. It is important to recall, however, that for the most part, modern federal jurisdiction law grows out of a network of congressional statutes—which, in turn, grow out of policy choices made not by unrepresentative judges but by those politically accountable to the populace. It is also important to realize that since the federal courts enforce substantive federal law, jurisdictional directives often operate as the fundamental means by which to implement the substantive policy choices made by the political branches. It is for these reasons that we believe federal jurisdiction should be studied, in the first instance, not merely as a matter of doctrinal and policy analysis but rather as a matter of statutory construction, as a means of implementing the goals chosen by those elected by the people. Such an approach, after all, reflects the nation’s foundational commitment to democracy. In this Article, we seek to achieve two goals: First, to explain how the Supreme Court’s general failure to view the shaping of federal jurisdiction as fundamentally a matter of statutory construction has dangerously distorted the central premises of American political theory, and second, to propose an original approach to the “faithful agent” model of statutory interpretation— what we call the “Majordomo Purposivist” approach. By comparing the role of an interpreting judge to that of a majordomo—traditionally, one in charge of a large estate owned by another—we seek both to confine and broaden the judge’s authority. We confine it by underscoring the interpretive humility a judge must demonstrate in interpreting statutes enacted by a representative, accountable governing body. Yet we simultaneously broaden that authority by recognizing that, much like a real-life majordomo, the interpreting judge will often have a significant degree of implementational discretion in determining how best to achieve legislative goals in particular situations.

Included in

Law Commons