Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly
This article addresses the Burger Supreme Court’s approach to federalism and concludes that the Court seems to be reordering federal-state judicial relations. This reordering appears to be occurring at the expense of both state autonomy and individual liberties, especially the rights of state criminal defendants.
Although there certainly have been cases which suggest the Burger Court has a lopsided federalism, upon thorough analysis of these cases, this determination is shown to be incorrect. In fact, the present Court greatly respects state autonomy and the independence of state courts. Further, the Supremacy Clause requires the Court to serve as final arbiter of federal law to achieve uniformity, and if it is not clear that the state court based its decision upon an independent and adequate state ground, it is not unduly intrusive for the Supreme Court to either remand the case for clarification or assume the absence of such a ground.
Ultimately, consideration of a number of controversial Burger Court cases reveals that the Court has, by its rulings, achieved a fine, delicate balance between state autonomy and federal supremacy. Recent criticism of the Court’s handling of state court decisions rest primarily on its disposition of Michigan v. Long and Montana v. Jackson, but both of these cases clearly demonstrate not only the Court’s respect for the independence of state courts but also its extreme frustration from dealing with ambiguous state decisions. To the extent that commentators view these cases as threats to state court autonomy and as a symbol of lopsided Burger Court federalism, they are responding only to “unfortunate impressions.”
David A. Schlueter, Federalism and Supreme Court Review of Expansive State Court Decisions: A Response to Unfortunate Impressions, 11 Hastings Const. L.Q. 523 (1984).