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Review of State Court Decisions by Supreme Court

It is a well established doctrine that state and federal courts have concurrent jurisdiction over civil suits arising under the Constitution and laws of the U.S..  In exceptional instances the federal courts’ jurisdiction is restricted by Congress.[i]

The U.S. Constitution has delegated the judicial power in all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, to the federal government in general terms.[ii].  Accordingly, under Art 3 § 2 of the U.S. Constitution the U.S.’s judicial power is extended to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.[iii] When a state court while deciding an admiralty matter, decides on the protection of substantial rights of the parties under federal law, a federal question arises.  Such a decision of state court comes within the scope of the U.S. Supreme Court’s review.  Otherwise, state court’s action of altering litigants federally established rights may be against congressional intent.[iv].  Also, when a state court alters any right established by federal law, the state would not enforce the federal right.  In actions under tort or in personam claims, state courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the federal courts.

In admiralty matters where rights of property are involved, authority is with the state to legislate.  Function of Supreme Court is to determine type of cases coming within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the U.S..  The U.S. Supreme Court’s process and mode of proceeding in admiralty cases are framed so as to avoid collision with the State authorities.  This is to avoid any trespass of authority.  The power is given to the Supreme Court, not only to make rules upon the subject, but to make them from time to time as to accomplish the object of the rule.[v] In Westerberg v. Tide Water Associated Oil Co., 304 N.Y. 545 (N.Y.1953), the Court held that a shipowner’s negligence resulting injury to a seaman in the course of his employment is a maritime tort, for which seamen have a cause of action under Merchant Marine Act, 1920, and Jones Act and U.S. Code, tit. 46, § 688.  The Court stated that the intention is to make a uniform application throughout the country, not affected by local common-law views.

Final judgments or decrees rendered by the highest court of a State may be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.  In review, the Supreme Court may consider

  • the validity of a U.S. statute; or
  • the validity of a statute of any state.

Validity of a state statute is drawn on the ground of its being repugnant to the U.S. Constitution, treaties or laws   The U.S. Supreme Court may also consider the questions in which any title, right, privilege, or immunity is specially set up or claimed under the U.S. Constitution or the treaties or statutes.[vi] The U.S. Supreme Court or any other court of appellate jurisdiction may affirm, modify, vacate, set aside or reverse any judgment, decree, or order of a court lawfully brought before it for review.  The U.S. Supreme Court may remand the cause and direct the entry of such appropriate judgment, decree, or order, or require such further proceedings to be had as may be just under the circumstances.[vii]

[i] Severson v. Home Owners Loan Corp., 184 Okla. 496 (Okla. 1939)

[ii] Steamer St. Lawrence, 66 U.S. 522 (U.S. 1862)

[iii] The Revenue Cutter, 1860 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6 (N.D. Ohio 1860)

[iv] 237 (b) of the Judicial Code, , 28 USC 344 (b)

[v] Steamer St. Lawrence, 66 U.S. 522, 528 (U.S. 1862)

[vi] 28 USCS § 1257

[vii] 28 USCS § 2106

Inside Review of State Court Decisions by Supreme Court