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What does the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) teach us about federalism? A first lesson is that, when confronted with state-based decision making of which they disapprove, national lawmakers federalize rights, as they have repeatedly done throughout United States history. In 2005, Congress turned to the federal courts because CAFA's proponents believed that state courts were too welcoming of collective adjudication. CAFA is part of a cohort of enactments and doctrinal developments of this era that preempt state decision making and push litigants toward noncollective and nonadjudicative remedies such as privately sponsored arbitration programs.
CAFA's reliance on federal courts to deal with aggregate litigation parallels decisions made in the 1960s to revise the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to facilitate the aggregation of parties and claims. The mechanism—federalization—is the same, but the goals are not. In the 1960s, Rule 23 was redrafted to expand class action opportunities for claimants in the federal courts. By easing access, rulemakers wanted to maximize the enforcement of federal rights, which they perceived to be under-protected in state courts, especially when state actors were charged with discrimination. In 2005, the purpose was, once again, to offer an alternative to state courts, perceived by then to have over-protected rights for various kinds of plaintiffs. Thus, a second lesson to be drawn from the enactment of CAFA is how quickly substantive "national" goals can change—aimed now at deploying federal courts to very different ends.
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