- James E. Pfander & Daniel Birk, Adverse Interests and Article III: A Reply, 111 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1067 (2017).
- James E. Pfander & Daniel D. Birk, Article III Judicial Power, the Adverse-Party Requirement, and Non-Contentious Jurisdiction, 124 Yale L.J. 1346 (2015).
Article III extends “the judicial Power of the United States” to certain “cases” (defined largely by subject matter) and certain “controversies” (defined largely by parties). But why the different words? Does the distinctive terminology track a difference in legal meaning? Questions along this line seem to come up every time I teach about Article III. Finally, I have a concise but fairly comprehensive answer to offer if asked.
My answer now—and my (justified?) confidence in its correctness—comes from James Pfander and Daniel Birk. Their compact piece, Adverse Interests and Article III: A Reply, restates and defends against a powerful scholarly critic—Ann Woolhandler—an account they first advanced two years ago in Article III Judicial Power, the Adverse-Party Requirement, and Non-Contentious Jurisdiction.
I must confess to paying insufficient attention to that earlier Pfander/Birk article—a 129-page throwback to the days before leading law reviews colluded to impose word limits. But if I can handle this most recent thirty-pager, so can you. And you should go read it with all deliberate speed. Like the pie-eating competition to which the practice of law is sometimes compared, the reward for consuming this legal scholarship will be more legal scholarship. But unlike excessive pie-eating, consumption of this additional scholarship will provide additional satisfaction instead of indigestion. (It’s all protein, no carbs.) Start with the reply, as some judges do with their briefs. And you will then be motivated and equipped to go back and read not only that earlier Pfander/Birk piece but also Woolhandler’s response, Adverse Interests and Article III, with the attention and care each demands and rewards.
Thanks to Pfander and Birk, my in-class answer to the standard “what’s the difference” question will begin something like this: “Yes, good question. There is a difference between ‘cases’ and ‘controversies.’ ‘Cases’ is a broader category than ‘controversies.’ The category of ‘cases’ includes not only civil suits and criminal prosecutions, but also other judicial proceedings that result in a final determination of a claim of legal right, including the granting of petitions for naturalization and applications for warrants. Unlike ‘cases,’ which can exist even if there is a single party before the court, ‘controversies’ require the presence of an adverse party.”
This answer—or beginning of an answer, really—is certain to raise many additional questions in class as we continue our exploration of the federal judicial power. “What about standing doctrine?” “What about the adverse-party requirement?” “Was Justice Kennedy right to treat the presence of an adverse party in Windsor as simply a prudential matter?” “Are you actually saying Justice Scalia’s Windsor dissent was wrong?” “Will this be on the final?” “Can you repeat that so I can type it exactly?”
With the exception of those last two, these are all excellent questions. And the aid offered in thinking through all of them is a virtue not only of the Pfander and Birk pieces, but also of the responsive article from Ann Woolhandler that makes up the middle of this trio. These scholars cannot all be right about everything each asserts; some of their claims are inconsistent. Helpfully, though, Pfander and Birk begin their reply with an overview of some of the areas of agreement between them and Woolhandler. Here is one big one: even under Woolhandler’s more current-doctrine-compatible “adverse interests” approach, an adverse-party requirement is too demanding a formulation of what Article III inflexibly requires.
If judicially accepted, the Pfander and Birk view would significantly unsettle existing doctrine. If they are right about Article III, then “parties do not need an injury in fact to pursue a claim in federal court” (P. 1092), judicial proceedings can be Article III “cases” even in the absence of adverse parties or adverse interests, and Justice Scalia’s dissent in Windsor “began from an incorrect premise” about the need for an adverse party (P. 1073). It does not necessarily follow that Justice Kennedy was right in Windsor to treat the need for an adverse party as something that Article III assigns to case-by-case judicial discretion. But he was right to reject a hard-and-fast Article III adverse-party requirement.
For all its potential to unsettle existing doctrine, there is something about the Pfander and Birk view that makes it relatively easy to accept. The textual distinction between “cases” and “controversies,” they contend, maps onto a more fundamental distinction between contentious and non-contentious jurisdiction. And non-contentious jurisdiction, they show, has been uncontroversially exercised by judicial tribunals in many other jurisdictions over long swaths of time. Pfander and Birk help us recognize something that has been hiding in plain sight for a really long time—“the judicial Power of the United States” includes the authority to accept “cases” of non-contentious jurisdiction assigned to the federal judiciary by Congress. Further, their distinction between contentious and non-contentious jurisdiction offers a helpful lens through which to re-examine much of what we have taken for granted. Once we see the utility and ubiquity of non-contentious jurisdiction in other legal systems, the ability of Article III courts to exercise non-contentious jurisdiction assigned to them by Congress makes a great deal of practical sense, in addition to clarifying the textual distinction between “cases” and “controversies.”
It is not my intent here, though, to endorse every element of the Pfander and Birk approach, or to adjudicate each disagreement between them and Woolhandler. The former strays beyond my considered judgment from my examination of their arguments; the latter extends outside my ken. My goal, instead, is to encourage new readers to take up all three articles for themselves.
Reading good legal scholarship is good for your soul. And these articles are excellent. Tasty, nutritious, and restorative (with just enough pepper to be interesting), Pfander, Birk, and Woolhandler have served up chicken soup for the Article III soul. More often than I should probably admit on the Internet, the consumption of legal scholarship is a disagreeable and sometimes dreadful chore for me. This perspective doesn’t come through in my JOTWELL contributions, I hope, but that is primarily because the point of this forum is to identify and discuss scholarship that we particularly value. Isn’t it especially off-putting, though, when legal scholars disagree in a disagreeable way? And isn’t that disagreeableness often an indicator for distortion of the views with which a scholar is disagreeing? (One example from personal experience as a student law review editor fifteen years ago is Ronald Dworkin’s “book review” of a Jules Coleman book on legal pragmatism.)
If you, too, try to avoid the annoyance of people who cannot disagree without being disagreeable, you can approach the scholarly interchange among Pfander, Birk, and Woolhandler without apprehension. Perhaps “tonic” is a better metaphor than “chicken soup.” Their tone is just right throughout—reasonable and measured but also clear about areas of agreement and disagreement. And that helps the reader avoid the mental distractions that emerge from unnecessary invective. For anyone who makes a living in this profession of law, it is a true professional pleasure to come across a scholarly legal interchange carried out so clearly and cordially as in this series. That is not to say it is non-contentious. The whole point of the exchange is to contend for one understanding of the federal judicial power over another. But scholarly contention can be personally non-contentious while remaining legally rigorous. And this controversy—through both its what and its how—helps us think through why it is the case that Article III extends the judicial power of the United States to encompass both “cases” and “controversies.”