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Thursday, November 05, 2015

Shapiro argument and the future of Bell v. Hood

Josh gave his thoughts having watched the argument in Shapiro v. McManus. My SCOTUSBlog recap--alas, based only on the transcript--has now posted. (Obviously, I agree with Josh that video (or at least audio) should be made available immediately). I am especially looking forward to hearing Justice Scalia say "Wow" and "It's extraterrestrial."

Let me add one additional point. There was some discussion in the case about Bell v. Hood, which stands for the proposition that a federal claim that is "wholly insubstantial" does not arise under federal law. Bell is an anomaly, an unwarranted and rarely used exception to the general (and correct) rule that failure to state a claim does not deprive a court of jurisdiction. It remains as an unfortunate barrier to a clean merits-jurisdiction line. SCOTUS had held in several cases pre-1976 (the date of enactment of the current three-judge court statute) that a single judge can dismiss an insubstantial claim. Several questions and comments from the bench suggested that those cases incorporated Bell, making the single-judge insubstantiality dismissal a jurisdictional one.

At the same time, Justice Scalia raised the possibility during the argument that those pre-1976 cases should be overruled, narrowing the situations in which the single judge can refuse to refer the case for appointment of the three-judge court (presumably to the non-satisfaction of § 2284(a)). If so, is there any chance that the Court would take Bell with it? I hope so, but it does not appear likely. The Court has largely ignored or minimized Bell in most of its recent merits-not-jurisdiction cases, without taking the time to overrule it. On the other hand, Justice Kagan offered several comments/questions indicating that she is very comfortable with Bell and the idea that some "completely ridiculous" claims can be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, even if the analysis looks "kind of mertis-y."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 5, 2015 at 01:34 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink

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