Despite its formal status as promulgator of federal-court rules of practice and procedure, the Supreme Court is a suboptimal rule interpreter, as recent groundbreaking but flawed rules decisions illustrate. Scholars have proposed abstention mechanisms to constrain the Court in certain rule-interpretation contexts, but these mechanisms disable the Court from performing its core adjudicatory functions of dispute resolution and law interpretation. This Article urges a different solution: bring the rulemakers to the Court. It argues that the Rules Committees—those bodies primarily responsible for studying the rules and drafting rule amendments—should take up a modest amicus practice in rules cases to offer the Court information that may improve its decision making in rules cases. The Article explores the possible forms of such a role and articulates guiding norms for its structure, timing, and content.
The ideal of clear and simple jurisdictional rules seems like a no-brainer. Clarity in areas of subject-matter jurisdiction generally reduces the cost of litigating those issues and thus preserves litigant and judicial resources for the merits of a dispute. As a result, scholars and justices regularly promote the rhetoric of jurisdictional clarity. Yet no one has probed that rhetoric or reconciled it with the reality of subject-matter jurisdiction doctrine, which is anything but clear and simple. This Article begins to fill that gap, and, in the process, shifts the perspective of existing conversations between rules and standards and between mandates and discretion toward a perspective that focuses on the value and attainability of clarity. It offers a more refined understanding of the surprising uncertainty and complexity of jurisdictional clarity, and it argues that, contrary to the rhetoric, the ideal of jurisdictional clarity is mostly illusory. Difficulties inherent in the design, implementation, and instrumental direction of clear and simple jurisdictional rules largely render them unattainable. Rather than continue to invoke the unexamined ideal of clarity and simplicity, jurisdictional doctrine should strive to confine clarity to what it can reasonably accomplish and to embrace the undervalued virtues of uncertainty and complexity.
On May 21, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and gutted the venerable language from Conley v. Gibson that every civil procedure professor and student can recite almost by heart: that “a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitled him to relief.” This Essay explains how Bell Atlantic did so and discusses some of its implications for pleading claims in the future.