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Abstract

The federal judiciary features a highly decentralized system of courts. The Supreme Court of the United States reviews only a few dozen cases each year. Meanwhile, regional U.S. courts of appeals operate independently of each other; district courts further divide and separate the exercise of federal judicial power. The role of the state courts in enforcing federal law further subdivides responsibility for the adjudication of federal law claims. Indeed, the Office of Chief Justice itself incorporates and reflects this vesting of the judicial power of the United States exclusively in collegial institutions—literally in a multiplicity of hands—effectively precluding its unilateral or precipitate exercise by a single person. The standard narrative posits that the radically decentralized nature of federal judicial power is a vice, rather than a virtue, because it renders federal law, including constitutional law, non-uniform based solely on the accident of geography. This Article challenges the received wisdom, contending that the radical division of judicial authority makes perfect sense. Consensus among the disparate federal courts serves as a highly valuable means of legitimating the exercise of judicial review (notwithstanding the lack of a democratic mandate). The creation and maintenance of a highly decentralized system of federal and state courts exists by design, not accident. Greater centralization of judicial power easily could be achieved, yet we should think twice before abandoning our present system precisely because decentralized judicial deliberation improves and enhances the process of resolving difficult questions of fundamental importance. We should not reflexively accede to the suzerainty of uniformity as the paramount value in judicial decision making; instead, we must carefully consider the potential benefits associated with decentralizing judicial power by denying any one person—or juridical body—the exclusive power to exercise “[t]he judicial Power of the United States.”

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