A state court decision under the federal statute will not be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court if the decision of the state court lies upon a state law ground which is independent of the merits of the federal claim and has an adequate basis for the court’s decision. Likewise, a writ of certiorari to review a state court decision will be dismissed if the state court judgment rests on an adequate and independent state ground.[i] Thus, the Supreme Court will not review judgments of state courts that are supported by adequate and independent state grounds.
However, the mere fact that an adequate and independent state law ground existed will not necessarily bar the U.S. Supreme Court, on petition for writ of certiorari, if the state supreme court based its decision on a federal ground. Similarly, if the opinion of the Supreme Court is not merely advisory in nature, then the Supreme Court has the power to review a state court judgment, even if the judgment is based on an independent state ground.[ii] However, the Supreme Court can refuse to take jurisdiction if the adequate state ground is found as debatable [iii]or if the decision of the state court is on a nonfederal ground.[iv]
If a judgment of a state court rests upon federal and nonfederal grounds, the U.S. Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to review the case if:
- The nonfederal ground is independent of the federal ground and is adequate to support the judgment;[v]
- The opinion of the state court expressly states that the state ground is an alternative holding.
If the state courts exercise their discretion, waive the default, and decide the federal question, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review the merits of the federal question although a litigant is guilty of a procedural default.[vi]
[i] Colo. v. Nunez, 465 U.S. 324 (U.S. 1984)
[ii] Commonwealth v. Henderson, 496 Pa. 349 (Pa. 1981)
[iii] Stembridge v. Georgia, 343 U.S. 541 (U.S. 1952)
[iv] Durley v. Mayo, 351 U.S. 277 (U.S. 1956)
[v] Oregon v. Hass, 420 U.S. 714 (U.S. 1975)
[vi] WHYY, Inc. v. Glassboro, 393 U.S. 117 (U.S. 1968)