Suspecting the States: Supreme Court Review of State-Court State-Law Judgments

At the Supreme Court these days, it is unfashionable to second-guess states’ fealty to federal law without real proof that they are ignoring it. As the Court declared in Alden v. Maine: “We are unwilling to assume the States will refuse to honor the Constitution or obey the binding laws of the United States. The good faith of the States thus provides an important assurance that ‘this Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.'” Accordingly, without proof that a state has “systematic[ally]” shirked its supremacy clause duty to honor Article I legislation, the Court appears unwilling to enforce compliance in a particular case. Likewise, the Court makes Congress prove a broad “pattern” of federal-law transgressions by many states before it can hold any state accountable to individuals for violating their constitutional rights. Indeed, a handful of even egregious anecdotes simply cannot overcome the Court’s presumption that all states can be trusted to meet their federal-law duties.