Federal Courts – Professor James Pfander
I. Article III and the Nature of Judicial Power
B. Article III and the Judicial Role (Art. III; 66-77)
C. Advisory Opinions, Parties, Finality – Federal courts resolve disputes, and do not issue advisory opinions on the law. “Cases or controversies” means that courts only entertain concrete disputes between competing parties. Article III courts’ decisions speak with finality and are not subject to judicial review. No other branch can act to overturn.
1. Jefferson (as Sec of State) asks the court to interpret treaty with France, but court declines. It was within the ability of the court to answer these questions, but they refuse to do it because they think it interferes with separation of powers.
2. The Constitution gives the President the ability to get advice from the heads of his executive departments. It does not say he can get that advice from the justices.
3. The president may or may not abide by the opinion. It raises concerns about the independent nature of the judiciary. It would undermine the judicial power if the president does not listen to the advice of the supreme Court.
4. If you were on the SC you may not want to answer this because you have enough work to do (it may be a prudential concern).
5. Advisory opinions are not briefed in a good way the way other cases before the Supreme Court are. By having adversaries before the court, the court has a better chance of making a good decision that is better informed.
6. Hayburn’s Case: Congress passes statute to pay disability to vets from revolutionary war. The facts of the case were to be determined by the federal district court and decision was sent to Sec of War who could decide there was a mistake and then the amount of compensation could be revised.
a. Sec of War has records of how long the person actually served such that the Sec of War is in a better position on the final determination (so there were real reasons for setting up the statute in this way other than encroaching on the judiciary)
b. It is emphatically the province of the judiciary to decide what the law is, and this law does not allow them to do this. It leaves the final decision with the executive, which violates separation of powers.
7. Tutun v. United States: Statute allows naturalization to be determined by district court. The SC says that is fine because it is an actual case or controversy. It is not an advisory opinion. It is a case or controversy. Factors:
a. There are adverse parties (even if one is the U.S.)
b. Look like a judicial proceeding.
c. Finality: this proceeding is pretty summary and afterwards the US can petition another court to put the earlier decision aside because it was procured through fraud or the alien does not meet the statutory criteria.
8. Why don’t we have the same problem with finality that we had in Hayburn’s case?
a. There is no problem because the judiciary can second guess its own decisions, but another branch cannot.
9. What if a foreign government wants to extradite someone?
a. The foreign government goes to the state department and initiates extradition. The State Dept then goes into court to determine whether the person has a claim for freedom from extradition. If the court determines extradition is okay, the State dept reviews that decision and the state can determine whether or not they will extradite for political reasons.
b. Does that violate the prohibition on advisory opinions?
c. It seems like something that gives the final authority to the executive but the distinction from Hayburn’s case is the not
15. Provision on Advisory Opinions: the court is to be the final arbiter of what the law is and Congress cannot determine how the Court determines that.
16. Plaut: Congress can change the way the Court is going to interpret the law, but it cannot change the Court’s interpretation of the law at the time the decision is made. Once the Court has rendered its final opinion, Congress cannot go back and tell them to reopen the case.
17. As a practical matter, Congress can achieve the same results by amending the statute to create new legal rights and make those rights retroactive (and allow a new cause of action to be filed). The difference is making the plaintiffs file a new cause of action (and that has constitutional significance).
18. Miller v. French: this is a harder case because of the limits on Congress’ ability to limit the way federal courts exercise their jurisdiction. The Prison Litigation Reform Act created new standards for how a court can issue an injunction regarding how people are treated in prison. Congress did not like what the federal courts were doing in this area (too many injunctions) and passed the litigation reform act and said injunctions could only issue under certain terms.
The problematic part is that whenever the prison system goes into to terminate the injunction and the court does not get to it within a certain period of time, the original injunction is stayed until the motion to terminate is ruled on.