Protective Jurisdiction.

A conceptually difficult doctrine, which approaches the verge of a serious constitutional gap, is the concept of protective jurisdiction. Under this doctrine, it is argued that in instances in which Congress has legislative jurisdiction, it can confer federal jurisdiction, with the jurisdictional statute itself being the “law of the United States” within the meaning of Article III, even though Congress has enacted no substantive rule of decision and state law is to be applied. Put forward in controversial cases,867 the doctrine has neither been rejected nor accepted by the Supreme Court. In Verlinden B. V. v. Central Bank of Nigeria,868 the Court reviewed a congressional grant of jurisdiction to federal courts to hear suits by an alien against a foreign state, jurisdiction not within the “arising under” provision of article III. Federal substantive law was not applicable, that resting either on state or international law. Refusing to consider protective jurisdiction, the Court found that the statute regulated foreign commerce by promulgating rules governing sovereign immunity from suit and was a law requiring interpretation as a federal-question matter. That the doctrine does raise constitutional doubts is perhaps grounds enough to avoid reaching it.869

Footnotes

867
National Mutual Ins. Co. v. Tidewater Transfer Co., 337 U.S. 582 (1949); Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448 (1957); see also the bankruptcy cases, Schumacher v. Beeler, 293 U.S. 367 (1934), and Williams v. Austrian, 331 U.S. 642 (1947). [Back to text]
868
461 U.S. 480 (1983). [Back to text]
869
E.g., Mesa v. California, 489 U.S. 121, 136–37 (1989) (would present grave constitutional problems). [Back to text]