Under the law, the Supreme Court may review final decisions made by the highest court available to a petitioner in a state if a decision is sought in matters involving federal laws.
Title 28, section 1257, of the U.S. Code gives the Supreme Court jurisdiction to review final decisions or judgments made by the highest court of a state. Such reviews are permitted when the legitimacy of a federal law is questioned, when a state law is questioned as being inimical to a federal statute, or when a claim is filed under a federal law.
The Constitution does not specifically grant the Court authority to review decisions of state courts. This authority is generally assumed although it has never been precisely spelled out. It certainly is not usual, as Charles Alan Wright has written, “for the court of one sovereign to have appellate jurisdiction over the courts of other sovereigns, but federalism is or was when the Constitution was adopted an unusual system, and the supremacy clause is a sufficient basis on which to rest the appellate jurisdiction over state court decisions.” It must be remembered that when the Constitution was being drafted, the form of government for which it was designed was experimental.
In order to conform to the mandates of section 1257 of the U.S. Code, the decision of a state court must be final in two specific ways. First, such a decision must not be subject to review by any other state court; the court rendering the final verdict must be as far as the case can be appealed within that state’s jurisdiction. Second, the Court, in Catlin v. United States
An example of the first instance occurs in Thompson v. City of Louisville
The question of finality is determined by how section 1257 is interpreted. The Court has permitted some latitude in this matter, sometimes deciding on practical grounds to consider some types of judgments sufficiently final to warrant further review by the Court.
In the quarter century between 1790 and 1815, the Court reviewed and rendered decisions in seventeen cases that had been adjudicated by state courts. Section 25
It was not until 1816 that this concept was challenged. In that year, the court of appeals of Virginia refused to accept an opinion of the Supreme Court, declaring section 25 unconstitutional. In the Court hearing that followed, Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee
A much later challenge to section 25 came in Ableman v. Booth
Perhaps the best succinct overview of the question of finality is that of William O. Douglas in the case of North Dakota State Board of Pharmacy v. Snyder’s Drug Stores
Spaeth, Harold J. Studies in U.S. Supreme Court Behavior. New York: Garland, 1990. Stern, Robert L., Eugene Gressman, and Stephen M. Shapiro. Supreme Court Practice: Jurisdiction, Procedures, Arguing and Briefing Techniques, Terms, Statutes. 6th ed. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of National Affairs, 1986. Wright, Charles Alan. The Law of Federal Courts. 5th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing, 1994.
Cohens v. Virginia
Douglas, William O.
Judiciary Act of 1789
Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee
States’ rights and state sovereignty