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What is a State Court?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
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  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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A state court is a court run by the given state and that handles cases arising from state law. It is distinct from a federal court, which in the United States is a court of limited jurisdiction. State courts have the broad authority to handle numerous cases for residents within the borders of their state.

Under the US Constitution, Article III mandated only the creation of the Supreme Court, which is a federal court. Article III states: "The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish..." The other courts in the federal system, as well as all of the state courts, were created through the voluntary efforts of the legislature. These courts now serve an important role.

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State courts have, in many ways, broader power than federal courts. The power of a state court to hear a case and to make and enforce state rules and laws stems from the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution. It reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." This means that, unless the Constitution expressly grants the federal government the power to make a given law, the federal government does not have the authority to regulate a given issue. Instead, that issue must be regulated by state laws and rules.

When the state makes a law or rule, or when an issue arises within a state that the federal government can't rule on, someone must make the decision. This is where the state court comes in. The state court can enforce the rules made by state legislatures. It can also make rules — in the form of judge made case law — that apply within the state's borders.

If a case arises from state law, it must be brought in state court. This rule exists because of the limited powers of the federal government. An exception exists when individuals from two different states have a legal dispute arising from state law in which more than $10,000 US Dollars (USD) is at stake. In such situations, diversity jurisdiction exists, allowing the federal court to hear and decide the matter, although it arises from state law. In other cases, if the rule was made by the state, the state court must be the one to interpret and enforce it.

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JimmyT
Post 4
@jmc88 - That is a good question, and I will say that I know that although the Supreme Court can hear anything, as long as it is heard at any lower court first, a lot of times federal courts cannot hear a case because everything about the case occurred in the state and there is no reason to bring the federal court into it.

The only federal court that can hear a state level case at will is the Supreme Court which can hear whatever they want. that being said does anyone know of a state level case that went to the supreme court simply because they wanted to hear it?

jmc88
Post 3

@Emilski - That is a good point to make and people need to keep in mind that federal courts are not bound by decisions of state courts and can easily over rule their decisions if the law allows them to, which it usually does. What I would like to know is if state courts hold any power over federal courts and if their decision can be final?

Emilski
Post 2
@jcraig - That is incredibly interesting to think a small court like that could set such a precedent the future courts have to abide by. I really think though that cases like that are extremely rare and that it is not too often that state courts set such precedents.

Usually the precedents that are set only are applicable in cases that concern state law, otherwise they can only be used as past cases for the federal courts to look at in order to come to in their decisions should they come to that.

jcraig
Post 1
What I find to be really interesting about state courts is that even though they are low level courts in the grand scheme of things they are actually courts that can hold a lot of power and can create precedents on certain matters.

Take for example the Scopes case which discussed the theory of evolution at the legal level. This case covered something that had neither been addressed in a state or federal court and the precedent that was created, which was challenging a state law, concerning teaching the theory of evolution, allowed for the state court to set a precedent that the federal courts were able to base future decisions off of.

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