29 January 2016

SCOTUS To Lower Courts: You Must Follow Our Orders

One of the perennial problems in writing legal briefs is finding case law to rule out legal positions that are so obviously wrong that nobody every bothers to appeal the issue and create a reported decision on the subject if the lose on that argument in the trial court.

Moreover, when you can find a case that states the obvious it is often old.  For example, just today I was forced to resort to a Colorado Supreme Court case from 1890 in support of a well established rule of black letter law that every law student learns, but is rarely litigated as a result.

But, every once and a while, such a case is decided providing a more recent precedent, so brief writers everywhere who need a case stating that lower courts are obligated to abide by U.S. Supreme Court rulings, rejoice!
James v. City of Boise, 15-493, challenged the Idaho Supreme Court’s, um, idiosyncratic view that when the Supreme Court construes federal law, it “does not have authority to limit the discretion of state courts where such limitation is not contained in the statute.” In just one-and-a-half pages (more than one-tenth of which consisted of a single quote from the Court’s 1816 decision in Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee) the Court clarified that “[t]he Idaho Supreme Court, like any other state or federal court, is bound by this Court’s interpretation of federal law.” Some have speculated that this case is a shot across the bow of the Alabama Supreme Court. The implications of James will become clearer in the future, once we know what has actually happened.
- John Elwood at SCOTUS Blog (some links in original omitted).

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