A party must exhaust his/her remedies in the last state tribunal which it can be reviewed before taking the matter to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can only review final judgments or decrees rendered by the highest court of the state. [i] 28 USCS § 1257 requires finality and the United States Supreme Court’s review of state court judgments is limited to final judgments of state courts. This requirement is inserted for the purpose of avoiding piecemeal review by federal courts of state court decisions and giving of advisory opinions in cases where there may be no real case or controversy in sense of Article 3 of Constitution. Also, the finality requirement will limit federal review of state court determinations of federal constitutional issues.[ii]
However, judgments rendered by the highest state court in a particular case may not necessarily be the highest court in the state, and can be, under certain circumstances, the state intermediate appellate court or a state trial court.
The exhaustion of state remedies rule is intended to prevent interference with state court proceedings while the dispute can still be resolved within the state court system. The rule prevents the Supreme Court from giving advisory opinions on federal questions which may become irrelevant to the particular case in the later stage. [iii] Thus, writ of certiorari granted to state court will be dismissed as improvident on ground that no final judgment had been entered by state court.[iv]
Courts have held that the Supreme Court’s power to review over state judgments is to correct wrong judgments, and not to revise opinions taking erroneous view of Federal law.[v] Also, jurisdiction may not be given by consent of parties.
Moreover, the United States Supreme Court can only review a judgment of the highest state court in the state which can exercise jurisdiction in the case. Thus, when the state courts have been clearly divested of jurisdiction, such as by removal to a federal court, no further review is required in state courts. On the other hand, if a state court which apparently does not have jurisdiction over an appeal assumes jurisdiction, then it will become the highest court of the state in which a decision could be had, and the appeal will be taken from that court to the Supreme Court.
The right to appeal is a basic right of the litigant. Hence, if a litigant in a state court action has a right to appeal to a higher state court, the litigant is obligated to do so, even if an intermediate state appellate court has denied a motion for leave to appeal, or a writ of certiorari has been improperly sought and denied.
The parties can also seek a discretionary review before the hearing before the Supreme Court. Thus, if leave to appeal to a higher court can be obtained, or a discretionary writ of certiorari can issue to review a state court judgment, leave to appeal or certiorari must be sought before the matter may be heard by the Supreme Court. Parties are entitled to such review even though the higher state court has refused to hear an appeal as of right.
“The dismissal of an appeal by the highest court of a state is not such a judgment of such court as may be reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States by writ of certiorari, where the appeal is from an order affirming an order denying a motion for substitution of parties defendant, and the dismissal of the appeal must be taken, nothing else appearing as a ruling that it could not be taken, as matter of right, and the statute provides that the intermediate appellate court may, on application, grant leave to appeal, which it did not do, and in case of refusal application must be made to the higher court, which application was not made.”[vi]
[i] 28 U.S.C.A. § 1257(a)
[ii] North Dakota State Bd. of Pharmacy v. Snyder’s Drug Stores, Inc., 414 U.S. 156 (U.S. 1973)
[iii] Pope v. Atlantic C. L. R. Co., 345 U.S. 379, 381 (U.S. 1953)
[iv] Whitus v. Georgia, 385 U.S. 545 (U.S. 1967)
[v] Mich. v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (U.S. 1983)
[vi] McMaster v. Gould, 276 U.S. 284 (U.S. 1928)