Roell v. Withrow, 538 U.S. 580, 9 (2003)

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588

ROELL v. WITHROW

Opinion of the Court

These textual clues are complemented by a good pragmatic reason to think that Congress intended to permit implied consent. In giving magistrate judges case-dispositive civil authority, Congress hoped to relieve the district courts' "mounting queue of civil cases" and thereby "improve access to the courts for all groups." S. Rep. No. 96-74, p. 4 (1979); see H. R. Rep. No. 96-287, p. 2 (1979) (The Act's main object was to create "a supplementary judicial power designed to meet the ebb and flow of the demands made on the Federal judiciary"). At the same time, though, Congress meant to preserve a litigant's right to insist on trial before an Article III district judge insulated from interference with his obligation to ignore everything but the merits of a case. See Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Schor, 478 U. S. 833, 848 (1986) (Article III protects litigants' " 'right to have claims decided before judges who are free from potential

timing of consent is a different matter from the manner of its expression, and it is perfectly in keeping with the sequence of events envisioned by 636(c)(1) to infer consent from a litigant's initial act of appearing before the magistrate judge and submitting to her jurisdiction, instead of insisting on trial before a district judge. An "appearance" being commonly understood as "[t]he first act of the defendant in court," J. Ballentine, Law Dictionary with Pronunciations 91 (2d ed. 1948), any subsequent proceedings by the court will occur "[u]pon the consent of the parties," 636(c)(1).

Furthermore, it is hardly true, contrary to the dissent's claim, post, at 594 (opinion of Thomas, J.), that 636(c)(2) and Rule 73(b) are pointless if implied consent is permitted under 636(c)(1). Certainly, notification of the right to refuse the magistrate judge is a prerequisite to any inference of consent, so that aspect of 636(c)(2)'s protection is preserved. And litigants may undoubtedly insist that they be able to communicate their decision on the referral to the clerk, in order to guard against the risk of reprisals at the hands of either judge. The only question is whether a litigant who forgoes that procedural opportunity, but still voluntarily gives his consent through a general appearance before the magistrate judge, is still subject to the magistrate judge's "civil jurisdiction," and we think that the language of 636(c)(1) indicates that he is.

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