Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the Hearing on “Exploring Federal Diversity Jurisdiction” Before the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Today’s hearing focuses on federal diversity jurisdiction whereby federal courts may hear otherwise purely state law cases if the plaintiff and the defendant are citizens of different states.

For more than 2 centuries, Congress has imposed, and the Supreme Court has upheld, the requirement of “complete” diversity, which mandates that every plaintiff must be a citizen of a different state than every defendant for a federal court to have jurisdiction of the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, based on the Majority witnesses’ testimony, it appears that this hearing may be laying the groundwork for the outright repeal of this longstanding requirement. And, it represents the latest attempt by corporate interests to deny state court plaintiffs access to justice.

As many of you may recall, I have long-opposed any effort to repeal the complete diversity requirement for the following reasons. To begin with, expanding the scope of federal diversity jurisdiction upends the careful, centuries-long balance between federal and state sovereignty that current law has achieved.

More than a decade ago, when we were considering the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 -- which, among other things, eliminated the complete diversity requirement for certain class actions -- I raised the concern that the measure would undermine state law by substantially divesting state courts of the ability to interpret state law.

State courts, after all, should be the final arbiters of state law. The complete diversity requirement and other limitations on the scope of diversity jurisdiction are designed to serve this important federalism interest, and repealing it beyond the class action context would only heighten my concerns.

In addition, eliminating the complete diversity requirement could increase costs and might even make litigation cost-prohibitive for many plaintiffs with meritorious claims.

As it is, the costs of litigation increase whenever federal courts are called upon to decide state law questions because of the added complexity and time required to resolve such issues.

Eliminating complete diversity would only increase these costs on litigants, with a disproportionate adverse impact on plaintiffs, who generally have fewer resources than the corporate defendants they typically face in court.

Once again, our experience with the Class Action Fairness Act is instructive, as that law made it far more burdensome, expensive, and time-consuming for injured persons to vindicate their rights under state law.

So we should be wary of spreading this harm even more broadly.
Finally, eliminating complete diversity would increase burdens on an already-strained federal court system.

Even by the Majority witnesses’ own estimate, eliminating the complete diversity requirement could potentially add more than half a million additional cases to the federal court dockets every year.

As it is, the federal court system is already straining to meet its current caseload in light of the significant unmet judicial resource needs.  There are numerous judgeship vacancies as well as an overwhelming need to create new judgeships that require congressional action.

Accordingly, we should be especially wary of eliminating the longstanding complete diversity requirement, a requirement whose constitutionality the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld for more than 200 years.

I thank our witnesses and look forward to their testimony.

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