The Volokh Conspiracy

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Is Grupo Mexicano an Outlier?


The Supreme Court has had many cases on equity over the last three decades, but it is Grupo Mexicano that is perhaps the leading case to connect the equity jurisdiction of the federal courts to the historic jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery. In a forthcoming article called "Debs and the Federal Equity Jurisdiction," Professor Aditya Bamzai and I include a footnote that shows that Grupo Mexicano is not an outlier.

In the text, we say:

As the Supreme Court has consistently understood, this statutory authorization to adjudicate equity cases was linked to the equitable jurisdiction of the English Court of Chancery in 1789. Writing in 1928, then-Professor (and future Judge) Armistead Dobie explained that "[s]ubstantially . . . the equity jurisdiction of the federal courts is the jurisdiction in equity exercised by the High Court of Chancery in England at the time of the adoption of the Constitution and the enactment of the original Judiciary Act, 1789." The modern statement of this proposition is found in the Court's decision in Grupo Mexicano, but many other cases both before and after Grupo Mexicano link section 11 of the First Judiciary Act with the English Court of Chancery's jurisdiction.

The supporting footnote says in part:

E.g., Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. 293, 308 (2006) (noting that "the equity juris- diction conferred by the Judiciary Act of 1789 . . . is that of the English Court of Chancery in 1789" (quoting Markham v. Allen, 326 U.S. 490, 494 (1946)); Guar. Tr. Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 105 (1945) ("The suits in equity of which the federal courts have had 'cognizance' ever since 1789 constituted the body of law which had been transplanted to this country from the English Court of Chancery."); Atlas Life Ins. Co. v. W.I.S., Inc., 306 U.S. 563, 568 (1939) ("The 'jurisdiction' thus conferred on the federal courts to entertain suits in equity is an authority to administer in equity suits the principles of the system of judicial remedies which had been devised and was being administered by the English Court of Chancery at the time of the separation of the two countries."); Matthews v. Rodgers, 284 U.S. 521, 529 (1932) ("The equity jurisdiction conferred on inferior courts of the United States by [sec- tion] 11 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 . . . is that of the English court of chancery at the time of the separation of the two countries.") (citing Judiciary Act of 1789, ch. 20, 1 Stat. 78); Waterman v. Canal-La. Bank & Tr. Co., 215 U.S. 33, 43 (1909); Arrowsmith v, Gleason, 129 U.S. 86, 99 (1889); McConihay v. Wright, 121 U.S. 201, 206 (1887); Generes v. Campbell, 78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 193, 196–98 (1870); Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co., 59 U.S. (18 How.) 460, 462 (1855); Fontain v. Ravenel, 58 U.S. (17 How.) 369, 384 (1855) ("The courts of the United States cannot exercise any equity powers, except those conferred by acts of congress, and those judicial powers which the high court of chancery in England, acting under its judicial capacity as a court of equity, possessed and exercised, at the time of the formation of the constitution of the United States."); Story v. Livingston, 38 U.S. (13 Pet.) 359, 368 (1839); Vattier v. Hinde, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 252, 252 (1833); Robinson v. Campbell, 16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 212, 222–23 (1818) (tracing equitable remedies to "the principles of . . . equity, as distinguished and defined in that country from which we derive our knowledge of those principles").

You can read the whole article here.