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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

House subcommittee hearing on complete diversity

The House Judiciary Committee/Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing (includes video) Tuesday on whether to eliminate the requirement of complete diversity in the basic jurisdiction statute. Witnesses were attorney Charles Cooper, Joanna Shepherd (Emory), and Ronald Welch (Dean, Baltimore). (H/T: Jim Pfander and Patricia Moore). Both Cooper and Shepherd argued for adopting minimal diversity as the statutory standard, Cooper for constitutional reasons (that do not hold up to the prevailing doctrine or theory) and Shepherd because it would have only a minimal effect on the federal docket that could be minimized by filling judicial vacancies or ratcheting up the amount-in-controversy requirement (which has not moved in more than 20 years).

The paradox of expanding the jurisdiction of the federal courts in this way (largely for defendants seeking to remove) is that the goal is to take advantage of the merits-based and procedural narrowing of access to the federal courts (via Twiqbal, limits on discovery, etc.) against the plaintiffs. In other, moving to minimal diversity would open the courthouse doors in order to slam them shut.

The proposal will not go anywhere, not least of all because federal district judges, who were not heard from here, hate diversity jurisdiction. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how the shifting political positions with respect to federal jurisdiction, particularly in these state-law cases, in which the supposed Republican commitment to federalism would require deference to state power and state institutions.

Two additional points, as I think of them. First, Cooper's testimony recasts diversity as a measure for protecting interstate commerce generally, as opposed to protecting outsiders who cross state lines. So recast, diversity becomes about anti-corporate bias writ large, since corporations are the ones seeking to "be" everywhere at once. Second, I wonder what Cooper would make of the Hulk Hogan/Gawker case, where the big conservative money was Peter Thiel and Hogan, but minimal diversity would have allowed Gawker to remove and likely to win before a smarter federal judge more willing to respect the First Amendment.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 13, 2016 at 04:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


Howard, if someone secretly tapes you having sex and puts that tape on the internet, would that action be covered by the First Amendment? Or would I have to be as smart as a federal judge to understand just why in fact that is the case?

Posted by: PaulB | Sep 13, 2016 4:44:47 PM

No. But I am not a public figure, I do not talk publicly about my sex life, and I have not gone out of my way to make my sexual prowess a central part of my public identity. Hogan has and that matters. And I was not suggesting that all federal judges are smart--only that the state court judge who had this case is uniquely unqualified (or politically hackish, or both).

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Sep 13, 2016 4:51:24 PM

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