Roell v. Withrow, 538 U.S. 580, 10 (2003)

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Cite as: 538 U. S. 580 (2003)

Opinion of the Court

domination by other branches of government' " (quoting United States v. Will, 449 U. S. 200, 218 (1980))). It was thus concern about the possibility of coercive referrals that prompted Congress to make it clear that "the voluntary consent of the parties is required before a civil action may be referred to a magistrate for a final decision." S. Conf. Rep. No. 96-322, p. 7 (1979); see also S. Rep. No. 96-74, at 5 ("The bill clearly requires the voluntary consent of the parties as a prerequisite to a magistrate's exercise of the new jurisdiction. The committee firmly believes that no pressure, tacit or expressed, should be applied to the litigants to induce them to consent to trial before the magistrates"); H. R. Rep. No. 96-287, at 2 (The Act "creates a vehicle by which litigants can consent, freely and voluntarily, to a less formal, more rapid, and less expensive means of resolving their civil controversies").6

When, as here, a party has signaled consent to the magistrate judge's authority through actions rather than words, the question is what outcome does better by the mix of congressional objectives. On the one hand, the virtue of strict insistence on the express consent requirement embodied in 636(c)(2) is simply the value of any bright line: here, absolutely minimal risk of compromising the right to an Article

6 Originally, the third sentence of 636(c)(2) provided that once the decision of the parties was communicated to the clerk, "neither the district judge nor the magistrate shall attempt to persuade or induce any party to consent to reference of any civil matter to a magistrate." 93 Stat. 643. In the 1990 amendments to the Act, Congress amended 636(c)(2) to provide that even after the parties' decision is made, "either the district court judge or the magistrate may again advise the parties of the availability of the magistrate, but in so doing, shall also advise the parties that they are free to withhold consent without adverse substantive consequences." Judicial Improvements Act of 1990, Pub. L. 101-650, 308, 104 Stat. 5112. The change reflected Congress's diminishing concern that communication between the judge and the parties would lead to coercive referrals. See H. R. Rep. No. 101-734, p. 27 (1990).

589

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