Procedural Retrenchment and the States

Procedural Retrenchment and the States

Although not always headline grabbing, the Roberts Court has been highly interested in civil procedure. According to critics, the Court has undercut access to justice and private enforcement through its decisions on pleading, class actions, summary judgment, arbitration, standing, personal jurisdiction, and international law.

While I have much sympathy for the Court’s critics, the current discourse too often ignores the states. Rather than bemoaning the Roberts Court’s decisions to limit court access—and despairing further developments in the age of Trump—we instead might productively focus on the options open to state courts and public enforcement. Many of the aforementioned decisions are not binding on state courts, and many states have declined to follow their reasoning. This Article documents state courts deviating from Twombly and Iqbal on pleading; the Celotex trilogy on summary judgment; Wal-Mart v. Dukes on class actions; and Supreme Court decisions on standing and international law. Similarly, many of the Court’s highly criticized procedural decisions do not apply to public enforcement, and many public suits have proceeded where private litigation would have failed. This Article documents successful state-enforcement actions when class actions could not be certified, when individual claims would be sent to arbitration, and when private plaintiffs would lack Article III standing.

In sum, this Article evaluates state court and state-enforcement responses to the Roberts Court’s procedural decisions, and it suggests further interventions by state courts and public enforcers that could offset the regression in federal court access. At the same time, this analysis also illuminates serious challenges for those efforts, and it offers reasons to be cautious about state procedure and enforcement. Leveling down to state actors may not completely escape the political forces that have shaped federal procedure, and it may exacerbate some of the political economies that have undermined private enforcement and private rights to date.


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