Contempt of the Bankruptcy Court—A New Look
Laura B. Bartell   |   1996 U. Ill. L. Rev.

With the passage of the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978, Congress worked a sweeping revision of the nation's bankruptcy laws. As part of this massive reform measure, Congress reinvented the role of the bankruptcy judge, granting the judge a host of new powers. Because these new powers were so substantial and because Congress elected to establish bankruptcy judges as Article I rather than Article III judges, the Supreme Court, in Northern Pipeline Construction Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., declared those portions of the Act delineating the powers and structure of the bankruptcy courts unconstitutional. Congress responded by passing the Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984 to address the Court's constitutional concerns.

Despite the Court's decision in Marathon and Congress' response, the extent of a bankruptcy judge's power remains unclear, particularly as to whether a bankruptcy judge has the statutory or inherent power of contempt. In this article, Laura Bartell provides a thorough analysis of this issue and reaches the compelling conclusion that bankruptcy judges lack the contempt power and that to invest the non-Article III bankruptcy courts with such power would violate the Constitution.

* Member, Shearman & Sterling, New York, N.Y. B.A. 1975, Stanford; J.D. 1978, Harvard.