April 22, 1998
The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 1252 and, if
presented to the President in its current form, the Attorney General would
recommend that he veto the bill for the reasons described below.
H.R. 1252 would give parties in civil cases the right to remove the judge to whom the case is originally assigned without reason and have it reassigned to another judge. Such a procedure threatens to undermine the independence of the Federal Judiciary that Article III of the Constitution was intended to secure, as well as undermine the public's confidence in life-tenured and constitutionally appointed Federal judges as impartial adjudicators. Litigants assuredly will engage in judge and forum shopping -- sometimes with improper motives. Additionally, these peremptory challenges would add further delay to the civil litigation system and erode the rule of law. (Section 6)
In addition, H.R. 1252 purports to restrict the remedial powers of Article III Federal courts to enforce constitutional rights. Under current law, Federal district courts may compel State and local governments to levy taxes in excess of their State law taxing powers when such a remedy would be required to enforce a Federal constitutional right. In addition, Federal courts have long been held to possess the equitable authority to compel State and local governments to exercise their existing taxing authority even when the Constitution would not require imposition of such a remedy. The bill's proposed restrictions would curtail the equitable discretion of Federal district courts, as well as deprive them of the power to provide a remedy for certain constitutional violations. The latter deprivation of power raises constitutional concerns and would be subject to reasonable constitutional challenge. (Section 5)
Finally, the bill would require the use of a three-judge panel for certain injunctions and declaratory actions. This provision would adversely affect the operation of several preemptive Federal statutes in situations where a State has passed a referendum that is contrary to Federal law. This provision is objectionable because it would provide unprecedented direct and immediate access to the Supreme Court, even when the three-judge court denies injunctive relief. (Section 2)