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Requirement That State Court Determine Federal Question

Pursuant to title 28 USCS § 1257(a), the U.S. Supreme Court can review final judgments or decrees rendered by the highest court of a state.  Any title, right, privilege, or immunity should be specially claimed under the Constitution.  Federal claims not brought in state court will not be decided on review.  There should be record that a claim under a federal statute or the federal constitution was presented in the state court.[i] The statute[ii] defining the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court to re-examine the final judgment of the highest court of a state gives jurisdiction where there is a challenge of the validity of a state court action or an authority exercised under any state court, on the ground of their being repugnant to the constitution, treaties, or laws of the U.S., and the decision is in favor of state action.  Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court can review state courts decision where any title, right, privilege or immunity is claimed under the constitution, any treaty, or statute of the U.S., and the decision is against such title, right, privilege, or immunity.

The record produced before the U.S. Supreme Court must show expressly, or by necessary implication that a federal question has actually been decided by the state courts adversely to the appellant or petitioner.[iii]

Before reviewing a decision of a state court, the Supreme Court must affirmatively appeal from the record that the federal question was presented to the highest court of the state having jurisdiction and that the state court’s decision of the federal question was necessary to determine the cause.  Decision of the state court may be either on a state ground or on a federal ground.  When the state ground is sufficient to sustain the judgment, the Court will not undertake to review it.  And when from the records it is clear that the state court considered it necessary to construe a federal statute, that consideration will support the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to review the state court decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to review a state court decision, although state court did not decide against the plaintiff in error upon an independent state ground, but deeming the federal question to be before it and decides adversely to the federal right asserted.[iv] Mere reliance on a federal point by a state court is not sufficient to invoke the U.S. Supreme Court jurisdiction.  A specific ruling on the federal question is necessary.  However, when a state court actually deems a federal question to be before it and decides it adversely to the federal rights asserted, the U. S. Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review the judgment.  A state court’s decision on same non-federal grounds will not affect the Supreme Court’s power.  Records indicating a state courts’ intention to construe a federal statute show that the construction of the federal statute is material to the state court result and will support the jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court can dismiss an appeal on the ground that the records do not expressly reveal that the state court decided on a federal question.  However, there is no requirement that the state court should expressly announce the ruling on a federal question.  An indication in the judgment that a state court adjudicated on the federal claim is sufficient.  The U.S. Supreme Court has unquestionable jurisdiction to review the federal issue decided by the state court when a state court denies the existence of a federal right and makes a decision without considering the federal issue.

[i] Dyer v. Ponte, 749 F.2d 84 (1st Cir. Mass. 1984)

[ii] Title 28 USCS § 1257

[iii] Thomas v. Board of Trustees, 195 U.S. 207 (U.S. 1904)

[iv] Rogers v. Hennepin County, 240 U.S. 184 (U.S. 1916)

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