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Can State Appellate Courts Hear Federal Matters? – Explained

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "Can State Appellate Courts Hear Federal Matters? – Explained," in The Business Professor, updated January 3, 2015, last accessed April 1, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/can-state-courts-hear-federal-matters-and-vice-versa-2/.
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State Appellate Courts Hear Federal Cases
Can State Appellate Courts Hear Federal Cases? Can Federal Appellate Courts Hear State Cases?

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Can federal courts hear matters of state law? And vice versa?

Appellate Courts

Federal trial court decisions are appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals or via special writ to the US Supreme Court. Federal District Courts and Courts of Appeal cannot review decisions from state court cases. Also, state trial or appellate courts can never undertake appellate review of decisions from federal court cases. State trial court decisions are appealed to the state intermediate court of appeals or the state’s supreme court. There is, however, one exception to this rule. The US Supreme court may review decisions of state supreme courts. If the court’s decision appears to conflict with federal law, (such as a statute, treaty, or the US Constitution). US Supreme Court review of state supreme court decisions is most common when the state court upholds a state law that could potentially violate the appellant’s constitutional rights. In such a case, the US Supreme Court may issue a writ of certiorari or accept a request for appeal of the state Supreme Court’s decision by the losing party.

Discussion: Why is it important that state appellate courts not hear appeals from federal trial courts? Why is it important to limit the ability of federal appellate courts from hearing appeals from state trial courts? Why is it important the US Supreme Court be able to hear appeals from state supreme courts? Is there an argument for expending the review authority of any of these courts?

Discussion Input

The purpose of the federal courts is to provide a forum for resolution of federal matters and to avoid dispute among states. Per the 10th Amendment, federal trial courts & intermediate appellate courts do not have the authority to interfere with the decisions made by a state trial court. The US supreme court is the highest court in the land, therefore it has the powers to review any decisions that have been made by courts that are below it including state supreme courts.

Practice Question: Nancy brings an action against the Georgia State Department of Revenue by suing the Commissioner Andrea. Andrea wins the civil lawsuit based upon an award of summary judgment. Nancy, unhappy with the result, believes that she lost the case because the court showed favor to Andrea as a state official. She does not believe that appealing the decision would do any good, so she files a request for appeal to the Federal Circuit court seeking to overturn the state court’s decision. Is this appeal procedure possible? Why or why not?

Proposed Answer

Challenging the decision in the intermediate state court of appeals or a direct appeal to the state supreme court are the only options. A federal appellate court does not have the authority to hear an appeal from a state trial court. If the state supreme court refuses to hear the matter, it is possible to request appeal to the US Supreme Court. Generally, however, the US Supreme Court will only hear major issues implicating constitutional rights or creating disparity in federal law. Andrea is likely stuck pursuing immediate appeal in the state appeals court.

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