John F. Preis


Time and again, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that the federal cause of action is “analytically distinct” from rights, remedies, and jurisdiction. Yet, just pages away in the U.S. Reports are other cases in which rights, remedies, and jurisdiction all hinge on the existence of a cause of action. What, then, is the proper relationship between these concepts?

The goal of this Article is to articulate that relationship. This Article traces the history of the cause of action from eighteenth-century England to its modern usage in the federal courts. This history demonstrates that the federal cause of action is largely distinct from rights, closely related to (and sometimes synonymous with) remedies, and distinct from jurisdiction except where Congress instructs otherwise or the case implicates sovereign immunity. Sorting out these relationships provides several benefits, including refining the doctrine of prudential standing, clarifying the grounds for federal jurisdiction, and dispelling claims that Congress lacks power over certain causes of action.