Suppose John Doe is facing criminal prosecution in Florida. He raises a 4th Amendment issue, and the Florida Supreme Court grants him relief. At this point, the state of Florida can appeal to the US Supreme Court, and the US Supreme Court can, if it chooses, review the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court.

What puzzles me is this: at this point, there is no federal harm to either party. True, the Florida Supreme Court might have used an erroneous federal constitutional theory to tie the hands of the Florida Attorney General, but nothing in the US Constitution says they can't do that.

What is the justification that prevents this from being considered an abstract question?

  • 4
    Cut n paste from wikipedia: In Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816), and Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. 264 (1821), the Supreme Court held that the Supremacy Clause and the judicial power granted in Article III give the Supreme Court the ultimate power to review state court decisions involving issues arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States.
    – user662852
    Nov 3, 2015 at 13:22
  • If the Florida Supreme Court ruled on the basis of the state constitutional prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure, it could avoid U.S. Supreme Court review and that kind of strategy isn't uncommon. When it rules based upon the federal law instead, it is taking a view that state law only provides the minimum permitted protection of federal rights.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 8, 2016 at 5:45

2 Answers 2


The Supremacy Clause.

U.S. Constitution, Article VI, Clause 2:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding. [emphasis mine]

This is also known as the "Supremacy Clause" of the U.S. Constitution. It prevents any law of any state from acting contrary to the federal constitution. A comment correctly cites multiple cases that use this clause, in part, as the basis for SCOTUS' authority to review State Supreme Court decisions.

So in your hypothetical, the federal issue in play is the clarity of the federal constitution which supersedes state law.

  • 6
    In other words, my statement that nothing in the US Constitution forbids the Florida Supreme Court from using an erroneous constitutional theory was in fact incorrect: state courts are required to correctly apply federal law and failure to do so creates a federal harm.
    – user3309
    Nov 4, 2015 at 5:23
  • @Owen: Correct! Nov 4, 2015 at 5:45

Losing on an interpretation of the federal constitution creates a federal case or controversy.

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