State Courts

State courts enforce both state and federal constitutional protections. State constitutions typically contain enumerations of protected liberties that echo the federal Bill of Rights, but the state provisions sometimes differ. State courts can interpret state constitutions as either the same or more protective than the federal constitution. Generally, however, identical state and federal provisions are applied to provide the same degree of protection.

State courts also uphold federal constitutional rights. The supremacy clause requires state courts to enforce all federal laws, including the federal constitution. For example, a state court must apply the due process clause to a state civil or criminal case.

State courts have jurisdiction over cases involving federal law. Although Congress can legislate to give federal courts exclusive jurisdiction over matters of federal law, if it does not do so, then state courts have ‘‘concurrent jurisdiction.’’ When jurisdiction is concurrent, state courts usually have the same power to decide federal actions that federal courts possess. For example, a state court can hear an action for damages under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 for civil rights violations.

Decisions by state courts on matters of federal law, including federal constitutional protections, are subject to review by the United States Supreme Court. To review a state court decision, the Court must find a federal question. But the Court will decline to reverse even an erroneous decision of a federal question if it can find a correct ground in state law for upholding the decision.

JEFFERSON L. LANKFORD

References and Further Reading

  • Abrahamson, Shirley S., Criminal Law and State Constitutions: The Emergence of State Constitutional Law, Texas Law Review 63 (March/April 1985): 1141–1193.
  • Brennan, William J., Jr., State Constitutions and the Protection of Individual Rights, Harvard Law Review 90 (June 1977): 489–504.
  • Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130 (1876) (state obligation to follow federal law).
  • Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 1 Wheat. 304, 4 L.Ed. 97 (1816) (Supreme Court authority to review state court decisions).
  • Murdock v. City of Memphis, 20 Wall. 590, 22 L.Ed. 429 (1875) (Supreme Court authority limited to federal questions; court will affirm on independent state law ground).

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • 42 U.S.C. section 1983

See also Incorporation Doctrine; Jurisdiction of the Federal Courts; State Constitutions and Civil Liberties; State Constitutions, Modern History, Civil Liberties under; Supremacy Clause

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