Federal Common Law

Federal common law refers to judge-made law that is created by federal courts to fill gaps or address issues in areas where there is no applicable federal statute or regulation. It is a body of law developed by federal courts to govern certain matters of national concern.

In the United States, the Constitution grants Congress the power to create federal laws, and these laws generally apply uniformly across the country. However, there are situations where federal statutes may not cover a particular issue or provide clear guidance. In such cases, federal courts may create common law to provide legal rules and principles.

Federal common law can arise in various areas, such as maritime law, international law, federal contracts, federal tort claims, and constitutional law. It is important to note that federal common law is limited to the specific context or subject matter in which it is developed and does not extend to areas traditionally governed by state law.

The Supreme Court's decision in Erie Railroad Co v Tompkins (1938) significantly restricted the application of federal common law in diversity cases. The Court held that federal courts should not create general common law rules in diversity cases but should instead apply state law unless there is a specific federal law on the matter. This decision emphasised the importance of state law and the role of state courts in shaping legal principles within their jurisdictions.

Since the Erie decision, federal common law has been relatively limited, and federal courts primarily rely on federal statutes, regulations, and the Constitution to decide cases. The principle of adhering to state law in diversity cases, known as the Erie doctrine, has been a fundamental aspect of the federal judiciary's approach to resolving legal disputes.
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