The Procedural Justice of Personal Jurisdiction

From the rigid territoriality of Pennoyer to the amorphous fairness test of International Shoe to the relation-based holding of Ford, the Supreme Court has evaluated personal jurisdiction as a Fourteenth Amendment due process concern and a state sovereignty issue, creating a host of sometimes contradictory rules and tests which often confuse both commentators and lower courts. In the meantime, a robust literature in psychology has drawn together tremendous evidence in support of the conclusion that individuals’ perceptions of procedural justice—whether they are afforded fair process—shape their satisfaction and compliance with decision-making systems, and most importantly, their belief in those systems’ legitimacy. Four key factors contribute to individuals’ assessments of procedural justice: how much voice participants have in the process, whether they are treated with dignity and respect, whether the decision-maker is bias-free, and whether the decision-maker is trustworthy. Considering personal jurisdiction through the lens of procedural justice, I argue that one way to make sense of the tangled personal jurisdiction doctrine is by examining how courts have implicitly reflected psychological procedural justice factors, both from the perspective of litigants and from the perspective of state courts themselves. The procedural justice framework not only illuminates individual decisions but also helps to unify competing strands of sovereignty and individual liberty by revealing their shared common ground. I conclude that courts and litigants would benefit from making explicit the implicit dimensions of procedural justice inherent in personal jurisdiction disputes, thereby surfacing the role of human psychology in perceptions of fairness.