Federal Question

The decisions made by a state court on a federal law can be reviewed by the US Supreme Court.  The presence of a federal question in a particular case is important to review a state court decision under the federal statute by the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court does not possess general jurisdiction that can rectify any error in the proceedings of a state court.  Similarly, the powers conferred to Supreme Court to correct denials of federal rights are limited.

To review a particular state court decision under the federal statute by the Supreme Court depends upon the presence of a federal question in that case or that the judgment rendered cannot be completed without deciding the federal question.[i] It was observed in City of Chi. v. Int’l College of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156 (U.S. 1997), that a federal question exists when a right or immunity created by the Constitution or laws of the U.S. is an essential element of the plaintiff’s cause of action.

The federal questions raised must be real and substantial.  If the Supreme Court finds that a particular federal question is not substantial, then it will remain the same until Supreme Court instructs or doctrinal developments indicate otherwise.  If a state court dismisses an appeal for lack of a substantial federal question, the Supreme Court will consider the dismissal as a decision on the merits that is reviewable.

Another important point to be noted is that the federal question raised in a case by a state court must not be abstract or moot in nature.  The court is not empowered to decide moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which has no connection in issue in the case before it.[ii]

If a state court denies the existence of a federal right and takes decision, then the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review.  The dismissal of an appeal by the Supreme Court for want of a substantial federal question constitutes a decision on the merits.[iii]

[i] Application of Baer, 169 F.2d 770 (3d Cir. N.J. 1948)

[ii] Tyler v. Judges of Court of Registration, 179 U.S. 405, 409 (U.S. 1900),

[iii] Boggs v. Boggs, 520 U.S. 833 (U.S. 1997)


Inside Federal Question