509: Federal Courts
The federal courts play a central role in upholding the rule of law in this country. They galvanized the civil rights movement, and they continue to protect the most vulnerable members of society by virtue of their independence from political pressures. But unlike state courts, federal courts hear only certain cases -- the ones they are authorized to decide under Article III of the U.S. Constitution -- and the limits of federal courts' jurisdiction are a topic of intense dispute. Whether people have broad or narrow access to these courts deeply affects the extent to which important rights are protected. We will explore this issue first by considering the "case or controversy" requirement of Article III and its attendant doctrines of standing, ripeness, and mootness. We will then address sovereign immunity, a doctrine that limits lawsuits against the federal and state governments. In addition, we will cover abstention, the idea that courts should choose not to resolve some of the cases that fall within their Article III powers. These and other topics will help us reach informed judgments about the proper extent of access to the federal courts.