Procedural and Substantive Grounds, Generally

It is a generally accepted principle that the Supreme Court will not review any state court judgments that rest on appropriate and independent state grounds, even if the judgments also decide federal questions.  This principle was originated in the context of state court judgments where both alternative state grounds as well as federal grounds were substantial.  The Supreme Court will also not review any state decisions forfeiting federal claims for violation of state procedural rules.  In the case of state substantive grounds, this principle is upheld by the prohibition against delivering advisory opinions; whereas, in the case of state procedural grounds, this principle is upheld as an adaptation between the rights of the states to lay down the rules of practice applicable in their courts and the inability of the states to deprive litigants of federal rights by means of local practice rules.

The sufficiency of a state procedural rule to restrict all review of a constitutional claim depends upon the timely exercise of the local power to set procedure.  In Roldan v. Ercole, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63560 (S.D.N.Y. July 20, 2009) the court stated that only a “firmly established and regularly followed state practice” may be interposed by a state to prevent subsequent review of a federal constitutional claim.

Even if the disputed state-law ground is substantive or procedural, the “plain statement” rule shall apply.  In Florida v. Powell, 175 L. Ed. 2d 1009 (U.S. 2010), the Florida Court opined that it is fundamental that state courts be left free and unfettered by the U.S. Supreme Court in interpreting their state constitutions, but it is equally important that ambiguous or obscure adjudications by state courts do not stand as barriers to a determination by the Court of the validity under the U.S. Constitution of state action.  The court’s requirement of a “plain statement” that a decision rests upon adequate and independent state grounds does not empower the rendering of advisory opinions.

When resolution of a question related to state procedural law depends on a Federal Constitutional ruling, the state-law prong of the court’s holding is dependent on federal law, and the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction is not precluded.


Inside Procedural and Substantive Grounds, Generally