By Anthony J. Casey and Aziz Z. Huq, University of Chicago Law School
The Supreme Court has struggled for the last three decades in defining the permissible scope of bankruptcy courts’ power. This question poses difficult federalism and separations-of-powers problems under Article III of the Constitution. Divided opinions in Northern Pipeline Construction v. Marathon Pipe Line, and more recently, in Stern v. Marshall, have produced confusion and litigation for practitioners and lower courts. This is true in large part because the Court’s Article III decisions lack any foundational account of why bankruptcy judges implicate a constitutional problem. As the Court prepares to confront the issue once again later this term, Aziz Huq and I provide such an account in a new article. This account more concretely identifies the precise stakes in this debate. We argue that a tractable, economically sophisticated constraint on delegations to the bankruptcy courts can be derived from what should be an obvious source: the well-tested creditors’ bargain theory of bankruptcy. Working from this account of bankruptcy’s necessary domain minimizes Article III and federalism harms while also enabling bankruptcy’s core operations to continue unhindered. To illustrate its utility, we then apply our framework to a range of common bankruptcy disputes, demonstrating that many of the Court’s existing jurisprudence is sound in result, if not in reasoning.
The article is forthcoming in the University of Chicago Law Review, and is available here.