Can the constitutionality of a law in the United States be challenged other than through the Supreme Court?

  • FWIW, it is virtually impossible to challenge the constitutionality of a law in the first instance in the U.S. Supreme Court. One cannot go to the Supreme Court (except in some very narrow circumstances involving lawsuits of one state against another and certain cases involving diplomats) without first raising the issue in a lower court.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 12, 2017 at 1:01
  • Also, while it is only effective within the relevant governmental body, the Attorney General of the federal government (in cases involving the federal government's interpretation) and the AG of a state with respect to state employees can make internally binding determinations in the form of an opinion letter that a statute is unconstitutional, which are effective until a court with jurisdiction over employees in question rules otherwise.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 12, 2017 at 1:03

2 Answers 2


In the United States, the constitutionality of a law can be challenged in any court. Unless and until the court is reversed by a higher court, then the law will be considered unconstitutional and invalid.

A jury can also theoretically nullify a law for any reason, including unconstitutionality, however, the jury's finding will only hold for that one case that they are trying.

  • 2
    An important note on challenging any law in the United States is "Standing" meaning the challenging party (the plaintiff) must have been actually harmed by the law's implementation. You cannot challenge on behalf of the harmed party nor can you challenge on theoretical harm that could come to you through this law.
    – hszmv
    Dec 11, 2017 at 13:42
  • 2
    "Unless and until the court is reversed by a higher court, then the law will be considered unconstitutional and invalid." Strictly speaking the ruling of a court other than the U.S. Supreme Court applies with binding effect only to the parties and to other courts subject to the jurisdiction of that court, although it is persuasive authority in other courts. Jury nullification is also only effective, for the most part, in criminal cases, as a jury verdict in a civil case can be reversed if under the correct law no evidence in the record supports the verdict.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 12, 2017 at 0:59

It is not true that a law's constitutionality may be challenged in any court. Rather:

State Laws and the Federal Constitution

Federal courts may hear cases concerning state laws if the issue is whether the state law violates the federal Constitution. Suppose a state law forbids slaughtering animals outside of certain limited areas. A neighborhood association brings a case in state court against a defendant who sacrifices goats in his backyard. When the court issues an order (called an injunction) forbidding the defendant from further sacrifices, the defendant challenges the state law in federal court as an unconstitutional infringement of his religious freedom.

Some kinds of conduct are illegal under both federal and state laws. For example, federal laws prohibit employment discrimination, and the states have added their own laws which also forbid employment discrimination. A person can go to federal or state court to bring a case under the federal law or both the federal and state laws. A state-law-only case can be brought only in state court.

(Emphasis mine).

  • 3
    No, a law's constitutionality under the federal constitution can be challenged in any court, as the bolded text makes clear.
    – cpast
    Dec 11, 2017 at 17:10
  • You're incorrect, of course. If the law in question is a state law it can only go to state court.
    – A.fm.
    Dec 11, 2017 at 17:15
  • 4
    I'm not incorrect. A question about whether a state law complies with the federal constitution is a question arising under the constitution or laws of the United States, which, by federal statute, the district courts have jurisdiction over. Many cases that end up striking down state laws as unconstitutional started in the federal courts. As the bolded text says, a case under federal law or both federal and state laws can go to federal or state court. The federal constitution is a federal law.
    – cpast
    Dec 11, 2017 at 17:19
  • 1
    Also, the bolded text is not quite correct. State-law-only cases can still be brought in federal court if they're between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. The bolded text ignores diversity jurisdiction. But that doesn't matter for this question, because whether a state law violates the federal constitution falls under federal question jurisdiction.
    – cpast
    Dec 11, 2017 at 17:25
  • 1
    "To have state claim in fed ct, cause of action must arise under fed law." Wrong. Federal courts also have diversity jurisdiction, and can hear state-law-only claims if they fall within diversity jurisdiction. The cause of action only has to involve federal law if the case is under federal question jurisdiction.
    – cpast
    Dec 11, 2017 at 18:01

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