Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Roberts Court and the State Courts: 2010 Term

Jason Mazzone

One of my current projects involves looking at all Supreme Court cases reviewing decisions of the state courts. I reported a year ago that compared to earlier periods in the history of the Supreme Court, the Roberts Court was reviewing relatively few decisions from the state courts but reversing a very high proportion of them.

The 2010 Term continued that trend.

During the 2010 Term, the Roberts Court reviewed nine cases from the state courts. In all nine cases, the Court reversed the decision of the state court. Four of the nine cases from the state courts involved issues of criminal procedure: Michigan v. Bryant (confrontation clause); Kentucky v. King (exigent circumstances and the Fourth Amendment); Bullcoming v. New Mexico (confrontation clause); and J.D.B. v. North Carolina (Miranda). In all of these cases except Bullcoming, the Supreme Court’s decision favored the government.

Two other cases from the state courts (Goodyear Luxembourg Tires v. Brown and J. McIntyre Machinery v. Nicastro) involved the jurisdictional reach of the state courts. In each case, the Court held that the state court lacked jurisdiction.

Three additional cases rounded out the 2010 Term’s docket of cases from the state courts: In Turner v. Rogers, the Court held that incarceration for civil contempt of a petitioner who lacked the assistance of counsel violated due process. In Williamson v. Mazda Motor the Court held that federal law did not preempt state tort claims involving safety belts. In Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan, the Court held that a state law prohibiting a legislator with a conflict of interest from both voting on a proposal and from advocating its passage or failure was not overbroad.

Three of the nine cases from the state courts produced 5-4 decisions: Bullcoming, J.D.B., and Turner. In J.D.B. and Turner, Justice Kennedy joined the Court’s four liberal justices to produce a majority. The majority in Bullcoming comprised Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, Scalia, and Thomas.

State courts have very little chance of being reviewed by the Roberts Court: last term, the courts of 42 states avoided review and North Carolina was the only state with two decisions reviewed by the high court. However, if the Supreme Court does grant review, it is very likely to reverse the state court’s decision.

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