Requirement that Federal Question Be Presented to and Ruled on by State Court

In order 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] The fact that a federal question is raised or decided by as state court is not enough.  Rather, the record must clearly prove that a federal question was actually decided by state courts adversely to the parties in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Moreover, if the record does not indicates that a federal question is presented to the state court, the Supreme Court will not take judicial notice that a federal question can be involved in the case.[ii] When federal claim is presented in the state courts, a party can make any argument in support of that claim on certiorari to the Supreme Court.  Thus, litigants who seek review in Supreme Court can frame the question to be decided in any way they choose.

While reviewing the judgment of a state court, the U.S. Supreme Court will not pass upon any federal question not shown by the record if at all it was raised or considered in the state court whether it arises from the same or different clause in the U.S. Constitution with respect to which other questions are properly presented.[iii] When the highest state court has failed to pass upon a federal question, it will be assumed that the omission was due to want of proper presentation in the state courts, unless the aggrieved party in the U.S. Supreme Court can affirmatively show the contrary.[iv]

It is to be noted that a mere ruling on a federal point is not sufficient, but the ruling on a federal question is necessary to determine the case.  However, if a state court actually deems a federal question to be before it and decides it adversely to the federal rights asserted, then the U.S. Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to review the judgment even if it believes that the court could have come to the same decision on independent and adequate nonfederal grounds.

However, if the final judgment says that the state court has expressly adjudicated a federal claim, then there is no requirement for a state court to expressly declare that it ruled on a federal question.  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.  Similarly, 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 U.S. Supreme Court for want of a substantial federal question constitutes a decision on the merits.[v]

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

[ii] Yazoo & M. V. R. Co. v. Adams, 180 U.S. 41 (U.S. 1901)

[iii] Wilson v. Cook, 327 U.S. 474 (U.S. 1946)

[iv] Fuller v. Or., 417 U.S. 40 (U.S. 1974)

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


Inside Requirement that Federal Question Be Presented to and Ruled on by State Court