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One important task of the federal judiciary is to resolve cases presenting tensions between national and state governments. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit justly is renowned for its work in this area. One major, if not sensational, arena in which these tensions surface is in cases presenting issues of federal jurisdiction, pursuant to which federal courts allocate power between the national and state judicial systems.

During the survey period the Fifth Circuit published almost one hundred opinions dealing with substantive issues of federal jurisdiction. Like others before me, I have not undertaken in this essay to discuss all of these cases. Instead, this essay considers only cases that raise significantly difficult and recurring problems. This judgment, of course, is subjective; my opinion as to importance necessarily reflects my interests. Thus, I readily recognize that my selection has left a number of significant federal jurisdiction cases beyond the scope of this essay. On the other hand, I have not intentionally omitted any nonadmiralty case on which the panel did not unanimously agree as to the federal jurisdictional question; I have included the only en bane case, the only case explicitly creating a conflict among the federal courts of appeals, and the only case in which the Supreme Court granted plenary review.

The cases I have chosen to discuss fall into three categories. First, the Fifth Circuit decided five significant cases involving the grant of jurisdiction over cases "arising under" federal law. Second, the Fifth Circuit decided two interesting cases evaluating the circumstances under which a party can remove litigation from a state court to a national court. Finally, this essay considers four cases regarding a variety of doctrines – ranging from judicially-based doctrines of abstention to Congressional provisos such as the Tax Injunction Act – pursuant to which federal courts may decline to exercise jurisdiction otherwise available to them.


Courts | Jurisdiction | Law