Federal Courts

The Least Dangerous Branch? Reflections on Bickel’s Classic

Professional Responsibilities & Legal Education Practice Group Teleforum Monday, July 11, 03:00 PMFederalist Society Teleforum Conference Call

The Federalist Society's Teleforum series, Legal Classics Revisited, will consider Professor Alexander Bickel's 1962 book, The Least Dangerous Branch. In a life cut short just before his 50th birthday, Professor Bickel contributed to our understanding of American constitutional law. Among his more provocative concepts was the "counter-majoritarian difficulty." It is not unique to observe that in a nation governed by elected representatives, an unelected Federal judiciary with lifetime tenure represents an anomaly. Alexander Hamilton penned Federalist No. 78 to explain and defend the idea. Professor Bickel takes Hamilton's idea and his title and spends his book exploring the questions: How can an unelected branch of government be a co-equal branch of government? How can society enjoy the benefits of an impartial judiciary without seismic jolting along the fault line between majoritarian and counter-majoritarian institutions? Professor Bickel's questions are still extremely relevant today.


  • Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Irvine
  • James A. Haynes, Attorney and Alternate Judge, U.S. Dept of Labor, Employees Compensation Appeals Board
  • Prof. Ronald Rotunda, Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law

Hughes v. Talen Energy Marketing - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 5-16-16 featuring James Coleman
James Coleman May 16, 2016

On April 19, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Hughes v. Talen Energy Marketing and several consolidated companion cases. The Court considered whether Maryland encroached on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) rate-setting power when directing its local electricity distribution companies, via a “Generation Order,” to enter into a fixed-rate contract with an energy provider selected through a bidding process. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that Maryland’s Generation Order was preempted by federal law because it effectively set the rates the producer would receive for sales resulting from a regional auction overseen by FERC, and in effect also extended a three-year fixed price period set under the Federal Power Act to twenty years. The questions before the Supreme Court were: (1) Whether, when a seller offers to build generation and sell wholesale power on a fixed-rate contract basis, the Federal Power Act field-preempts a state order directing retail utilities to enter into the contract; and (2) whether FERC’s acceptance of an annual regional capacity auction preempts states from requiring retail utilities to contract at fixed rates with sellers who are willing to commit to sell into the auction on a long-term basis. 

By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Fourth Circuit. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court, holding that Maryland's regulatory program--which disregards an interstate wholesale rate set by FERC--is preempted by the Federal Power Act, which vests in FERC exclusive jurisdiction over interstate wholesale electricity rates. Justice Ginsburg’s opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. 

To discuss the case, we have James Coleman, who is Assistant Professor at University of Calgary Law School.

The President's Judicial Legacy - Podcast

Litigation Practice Group Podcast
Damien Schiff, Brett Shumate May 03, 2016

After almost eight years in office, President Obama’s 322 appointments to the federal courts have already begun to make a substantial impact on the law. In this Teleforum, two litigators talked about whether and how these new judges are shaping the law and the judiciary. They focused in particular on the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the D.C. and Ninth Circuits.


  • Damien Schiff, Principal Attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation
  • Brett Shumate, Partner, Wiley Rein LLP

Simmons v. Himmelreich - Post-Argument SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 3-28-16 featuring Aaron Nielson
Aaron Nielson March 28, 2016

On March 22, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Simmons v. Himmelreich. This case arises from a lawsuit filed by federal prisoner Walter Himmelreich as the result of an assault by a fellow prisoner.  Although several of Himmelreich’s claims were dismissed in an initial round of litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit allowed two to proceed on remand, of which one was a “Bivens” claim made against certain officials in their individual capacities for failing to protect him in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The district court ultimately dismissed the claim, concluding that the “judgment bar” of the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) precluded Himmelreich from pursuing a Bivens action against the officials individually when his underlying FTCA claim against the government had failed. On a subsequent appeal the Sixth Circuit disagreed and again revived the Bivens claim, reasoning that the grounds on which the FTCA claim had failed--namely, an exception to liability--indicated a lack of subject matter jurisdiction that did not trigger the FTCA judgment bar.  The federal officials sought certiorari.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether, in an FTCA action brought under Section 1346(b), a final judgment dismissing the claim on the ground that relief is precluded by one of the FTCA exceptions to liability, 28 U.S.C. § 2680, bars a subsequent action by the claimant against the federal employees whose acts gave rise to the FTCA claim.

To discuss the case, we have Aaron Nielson, who is Associate Professor of Law at Brigham Young University Law School.

Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 3-11-16 featuring Erik Zimmerman
Erik Zimmerman March 11, 2016

On March 7, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, a case giving rise to a dispute over the scope of federal courts’ diversity jurisdiction. A group of corporations whose food perished in a warehouse fire sued the warehouse owner, currently known as Americold Realty Trust, in Kansas state court. Americold then removed the suit to the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, which accepted jurisdiction and resolved the dispute in favor of Americold. On appeal, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that the district court had lacked jurisdiction. Although the parties argued that diversity jurisdiction existed because the suit involved citizens of different states, the Tenth Circuit disagreed. As a trust and not a corporation, the court reasoned, Americold’s citizenship depended on that of its members, including shareholders.  Given the lack of evidence regarding the shareholders’ citizenship, the court held, the parties had failed to demonstrate that the plaintiffs were citizens of different states than the defendants.

By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Tenth Circuit, holding that for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, the citizenship of an unincorporated entity depends on the citizenship of all of its members. Under Maryland law a real estate investment trust is held and managed for the benefit of its shareholders, the Court explained, so Americold’s members include its shareholders. Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion for a unanimous court.

To discuss the case, we have Erik Zimmerman, who is an attorney with Robinson Bradshaw in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.