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federalism, forum shopping

Subject Categories

Civil Procedure | Conflict of Laws | Dispute Resolution and Arbitration | Law | Law and Politics


The recent effort of environmentalists and others to secure progressive social change at the state level enacts a familiar ritual in the history of American federalism. Political actors who have found their initiatives blunted at the national level have often turned to the states. With the ebb and flow of political power between two parties over time, arguments about the relative authority of federal and state governments display far more expediency than principle, far more mutability than predictability. States may be more or less progressive than the national government, depending in good measure on the temper of the times and the relative success of political movements in particular states and regions of the country. If states do not invariably produce progressive social legislation, why then should progressives like Justice Brandeis defend state sovereignty? This Essay suggests that the answer may lie in what it calls the infrastructure of federalism, a series of doctrines that ensure the binding effect of state law in our federal system of interstate litigation. By ensuring the binding effect of state law, the infrastructure of federalism both ensures that state legislatures remain relevant as centers of policymaking and serves to encourage interstate forum shopping. Forum shopping, in turn, may tend to advance the interests of plaintiffs in litigation outcomes. While improving plaintiff win rates does not directly advance progressive social values, forum shopping does tend to ensure that firms operating throughout the nation must comply with relatively more pro-consumer policies at the state level.