Why Summary Judgment is Unconstitutional

Summary judgment is cited as a significant reason for the dramatic decline in the number of jury trials in civil cases in federal court. Judges extensively use the device to clear the federal docket of cases deemed meritless. Recent scholarship even has called for the mandatory use of summary judgment prior to settlement. While other scholars question the use of summary judgment in certain types of cases (for example, civil rights cases), all scholars and judges assume away a critical question: whether summary judgment is constitutional. The conventional wisdom is that the Supreme Court settled the issue a century ago in Fidelity & Deposit Co. v. United States. But a review of that case reveals that the conventional wisdom is wrong: the constitutionality of summary judgment has never been resolved by the Supreme Court. This Essay is the first to examine the question and takes the seemingly heretical position that summary judgment is unconstitutional. The question is governed by the Seventh Amendment which provides that “[i]n Suits at common law, . . . the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.” The Supreme Court has held that “common law” in the Seventh Amendment refers to the English common law in 1791. This Essay demonstrates that no procedure similar to summary judgment existed under the English common law and also reveals that summary judgment violates the core principles, or “substance,” of the English common law. The Essay concludes that, despite the uniform acceptance of the device, summary judgment is unconstitutional. The Essay then responds to likely objections, including that the federal courts cannot function properly without summary judgment. By describing the burden that the procedure of summary judgment imposes upon litigants and the courts, the Essay argues that summary judgment is not necessary to the judicial system but rather, by contrast, imposes significant costs upon the system.

The Missing Interest: Restoration of the Contractual Equivalence

The analysis of contract remedies is dominated by Fuller and Perdue’s classification of the interests protected by remedies: expectation, reliance, and restitution. This Article argues that in many instances courts and legislatures award remedies that do not aim at any of these interests, but rather aim at another interest, namely, restoration of the contractual equivalence.

Restoration remedies strive to put the injured party in a position similar to the one she would have occupied had the parties made (and performed) a contract in which their obligations were adjusted to the actual performance by the breaching party, while maintaining the contractual equivalence in terms of the agreed value of performance, the chronological relation between their respective obligations, etc. Thus, for example, restoration remedies may put a buyer in a monetary position similar to the one she would have occupied had the contract referred to a smaller parcel of land, to goods of inferior quality, or to delivery at the (belated) time in which the goods were actually delivered.

The Article demonstrates that restoration of the contractual equivalence is a distinctive goal of contract remedies and explores its relations with the familiar interests. Surveying contract doctrines, it shows that various remedies for partial, defective or delayed performance are best understood as aiming at restoring the contractual equivalence. It argues that protection of the restoration interest is justified by various theories of contract law, including the will theory, corrective and distributive justice, economic efficiency, and contract as cooperative relationship. The Article proposes to make restoration remedies more systematically and generally available to the injured party.

Ambivalence About Formalism

In statutory interpretation, many scholars try to reconcile judicial power with democracy by cabining judicial discretion and rendering judges more faithful agents of Congress. Although debate pervades the field, the dominant approach is to rely on formalism to narrow judicial leeway and promote legislative supremacy. In constitutional theory, by contrast, many scholars respond to a very similar problem with a very different strategy. Here too, the concern is that judges will exercise power in a manner that substitutes judicial preferences for political will, and here too, there is as much disagreement as agreement. But instead of casting judicial discretion as the source of the problem, there is a growing trend in constitutional scholarship toward embracing judicial discretion as part of the solution. Many constitutional theorists urge judges to employ discretionary tools in a manner that limits their intrusions into the political process and minimizes the disruption associated with judicial review. These constitutional scholars tend to reject formalism in favor of a form of minimalism that is in many respects the antithesis of formalism.

Professor Molot suggests that both sets of scholars have gone too far in their positions on formalism. Statutory scholars often overlook the importance of judicial flexibility as an antidote to the excesses of formalism. Constitutional scholars often overlook the importance of formal constraints and fidelity to law. Using administrative law as a counterexample, Professor Molot sketches out a more balanced approach to formalism that he argues is superior to the one-sided approaches that have increasingly characterized statutory and constitutional scholarship today.