Ruling Out Federal Review Requires Proof "Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt"

Study for Patriotism
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824 - 1898)
[Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
I blogged here recently about "New Judicial Federalism and the Federal Courts."

Under the "adequate and independent" doctrine, the U.S. Supreme Court will not exercise jurisdiction over a question of federal law decided by a state court if two criteria are met.
  1. The State court decision rests on a state law ground independent of federal law.
  2. The decision based on state law adequately supports the judgment.

  3. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729 (1991).
This means state courts may rule out direct and collateral federal court review by deciding disputes under state law. Of course, these independent grounds must not violate federal law.

The "adequate and independent" doctrine is not new, yet a majority and dissenting opinion about it appeared recently in Florida v. Powell (U.S. Feb. 23, 2010).

State courts have interpreted the "adequate and independent" doctrine as an invitation to develop state constitutional law as distinct from federal jurisprudence.

In Florida v. Powell (U.S. Feb. 23, 2010), the State charged the defendant with possession of a weapon by a prohibited possessor. Moving to suppress statements to the police, the defendant argued they were procured in violation of the privilege against self incrimination. More specifically, he claimed the police did not properly notify him of his right to counsel. The trial court denied the motion, and the jury found defendant guilty at trial.

Based on a certified question from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, the Florida Supreme Court set forth the legal requirements of notifying an arrestee of his rights. Seemingly their answer relied on jurisprudence under the Fifth Amendment and the Florida Constitution.

In an opinion joined by a majority of United States Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg addressed the "plain statement" rule.

The U.S. Supreme Court will not exercise jurisdiction only if the state court decision clearly and expressly indicates that it is based on bona fide separate, adequate, and independent state law grounds. In short, this is the "beyond a shadow of a doubt" standard. Otherwise if there is any question, the U.S. Supreme Court will review the case.

This demonstrates the extent to which the U.S. Supreme Court will go to protect the integrity of federal law. Clearly this prevents the development of state court precedent that dilutes federal law with state law.

Justice Stevens dissented, however, based on two separate policy grounds for the "adequate and independent" doctrine.
  1. This doctrine respects the independence of state courts. This goes to the heart of federalist theory, recognizing the limited power of the federal government as contrasted with the plenary power of the individual states.
  2. This doctrine avoids advisory opinions.
To serve these two purposes, Justice Stevens argued State courts satisfy the "plain statement rule" when their opinion implies its decision is based on state law grounds.

Despite the reasoning Justice Stevens advanced, Florida v. Powell (U.S. Feb. 23, 2010) stands for the proposition that state courts adjudicating state law must expressly state this in their written decision.

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Click "New Judicial Federalism," labeled in the post footer, for more examples and explanations about this topic.