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Finding the Balance in Federal-State Jurisdiction: An Interview with Judge Stephen H. Anderson
Judge Stephen H. Anderson was appointed to the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 1985. A member of the Committee on
Federal-State Jurisdiction since 1993, he steps down as chair of the committee
in the fall after a three-year term.
Q: What are the
responsibilities of the Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction?
A: Broadly speaking, the
committee reviews congressional initiatives affecting the jurisdiction of the
federal courts and the allocation of jurisdiction between the federal and state
courts. Additionally, the committee is charged by the Conference to serve as the
liaison to the state courts. To enable us to perform this unique role
effectively, the Chief Justice and the Judicial Conference authorized four state
supreme court chief justices to serve among our 15 members. In addition, the
committee works closely with the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), the
policy-making body for the state courts, and the National Center for State
Courts, its support organization.
Q: You've chaired the
committee since 1995. In that time, what have been some of the significant
issues with which your committee has dealt?
A: It is impossible in this
interview to list all of the important issues that the Federal-State
Jurisdiction Committee has addressed over the past few years. At any given time,
we are following up to 20 bills, including both draft proposals and bills that
have been introduced. Some of the more significant topics the committee has
studied recently include property rights legislation, proposals to limit the
remedial powers of the federal courts, prison litigation amendments, proposals
to expand the jurisdiction of the Court of Federal Claims, mass tort litigation,
and the constitutional structure of territorial courts. Also, many bills in
Congress seek to alter the relationship between the states and the federal
government. The committee studies such proposals to determine whether the unique
roles of both court systems have been recognized.
Q: How have federal-state
relations evolved during your tenure?
A: The relations between the
federal and state judiciaries always have been good and have never been better.
This positive relationship developed long before my tenure as chair, and I have
sought to enhance this association. For example, I instituted for every
committee meeting a Report from the State Courts, during which the senior chief
justice member presents to the committee an overview of significant issues
facing the state courts. Also, I have continued the valuable tradition of
attending the annual and mid-year meetings of the CCJ. I have been joined in
representing the federal Judiciary by Judge Fred Motz, who was then a member of
the committee, and also more recently by Chief Judge Henry Politz, who has been
designated by the Executive Judge Stephen H. Anderson Committee as a liaison to
the CCJ, as well as to our committee. I must add that our state-federal
relationship is strong, in part, because of the harmonious relationship between
staff of the National Center for State Courts and staff in the Office of
Legislative Affairs of the Administrative Office. I continue to believe that
joint educational programs and seminars are excellent tools to improve the
understanding of the inter-relationship of such courts.
Q: How do the views of the
Conference of Chief Justices compare to those of the Judicial Conference?
A: In recent years, the
views of the two policy-making bodies have been similar on numerous occasions,
such as in the areas of property rights legislation, victims' rights, and health
care legislation. But such consistency, when it occurs, is not entirely
coincidental. Instead, I believe that it is one of the positive by-products of
the strong relationship we are fostering between the state and federal
judiciaries. We have listened to each other's viewpoints and thus have been able
to develop more fully our recommendations to the Conference. When mutual
concerns emerge, this commonality enhances congressional receptivity to the
views of the Judicial Conference, particularly when our view suggests that
certain jurisdiction lies more appropriately in the state courts.
Q: How has the allocation of
jurisdiction between federal and state courts shifted?
A: This allocation has been
of central concern to the com-mittee. During the past 10 years, Congress has
sought frequently to create federal court jurisdiction in areas traditionally
exercised primarily by the state courts. This often occurs with respect to
specific criminal activity and has led to many debates and state-federal
conferences concerning federalization. But "federalizing" a cause of action also
can be applied generally when Congress creates federal jurisdiction for
traditionally state court civil actions. The Federal-State Jurisdiction
Committee has studied numerous proposals that would shift litigation from the
state courts to the federal courts. A guiding principle for us has been the view
of the Judicial Conference as stated in the Long Range Plan for the Federal
Courts. Congress should be encouraged to conserve the federal courts as a
distinct judicial forum of limited jurisdiction. While certain criminal and
civil actions occasionally may justify expansion of federal jurisdiction, such
federalization effonts typically are driven by political and popular pressures
that can be expected to continue. As a result, I think it will be important for
the Judiciary tocontinue to encourage Congress to consider the unique role
intended by the constitutional framers for the federal courts.
Q: As a representative of
the Judicial Conference, you've testified before congressional com mittees a
number of times on a variety of issues considered by your committee. Generally,
how has Congress received the Conference views on legislation?
A: Very favorably. Whether I
have testified in support or opposition to a bill, members of Congress have been
receptive to the views of the Conference. A mutual respect exists between the
legislative and judicial branches, and any opportunity to foster our
communication is appreciated on both sides. While letters often are sent to
congressional leaders sharing our views of the Conference, testifying before
Congress is an excellent opportunity to engage in a give-and-take on the
potential implications of legislation for the federal courts. It reminds me, in
a way, of oral arguments and the chance to explain with conviction the decisions
of the Conference. Being subject to a five-minute time limit also is a humbling
reminder of the restrictions we as judges place on lawyers appearing before us.
Before we move on, I would like to take this chance to compliment the
outstanding work of the staff of the AO's Office of Legislative Affairs, under
the fine leadership of Mike Blommer, and in particular the staff of our
committee, Karen Kremer and Mark W. Braswell. Much of the informational sharing
with Congress occurs at a staff level, and these effonts are ongoing and
overwhelming. The Judiciary should be aware of the valuable and effective
behind-the-scenes work that is done by the Administrative Office staff, under
the careful direction of Leonidas Ralph Mecham.
Q: You also testified during
the last congressional session on H.R. 1544, the Federal Agency Compliance Act.
The bill has Conference support. Why?
A: Simply stated, the
Conference supports this bill because it brings respect to the rule of law. This
support was announced officially in the Long Range Plan for the Federal Courts,
when the Conference approved a recommendation calling upon Congress to pass
legislation that would generally prohibit agencies from adopting policies of
non-acquiescence to controlling precedents of appellate courts. As an appellate
judge, I have welcomed the opportunity to testify on the act and bring
congressional attention to this issue. We were delighted that Representative
George Gekas (R-PA) introduced this legislation and moved it successfully
through the House of Representatives. Our committee staff now is providing
assistance to the office of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), who has
introduced a similar bill.
Q: As an out-going chair,
what advice would you share with new committee chairs?
A: Act cautiously. I cannot
think of any two words that could better describe what might serve as a
dependable compass for others. So many issues come before the chair and the
committee, many of which demand immediate attention. It is often tempting, for
example, to oppose immediately a bill or a provision that seems to be an attack
on the Judiciary. Calm study, however, leads to a reasoned comment that will
help the Conference, and in turn Congress, to contemplate a bill's impact on the
courts. As long as full debate is encouraged and seasoned advice is sought on an
issue, I believe that committees can act with the degree of due process and
careful deliberation that we have come to expect in our courtrooms.