Federal Courts, State Courts, And Concurrent Jurisdiction Essay, Research Paper
The United States court system has seen a trend of increased involvement of the federal courts in criminal matters, which used to fall within the exclusive domain of the state courts. Most criminal cases violate only state law, and therefore are tried only in the state courts. Henry Glick would agree that counterfeiting, treason, and illegal immigration are some of the unique cases, which can only be tried by the federal courts. The boundary, by which federal courts and state courts diverge with regard to trying criminal cases, is known as jurisdiction. The federal courts have quite a broad jurisdiction, which encompasses three main categories; the first of which is “federal questions”. This category stipulates that the federal district courts may hear any case involving a federal law, the Constitution, admiralty or maritime issues, or a ruling of an agency of the federal government. The second category is “federal government as litigant”. This grants the federal courts jurisdiction over cases in which the federal government is a party to the case, either as plaintiff or defendant. The third designation of jurisdiction is in regard to “diversity”. This involves cases between litigants residing in different states in which the amount of money at stake is over $50,000(Glick, pp.31).
Though these boundaries of jurisdiction seem clearly defined, there are some instances in which either the federal courts or the state courts can hear cases. This scenario is called concurrent jurisdiction, and is evident in cases regarding diversity. When diversity is an issue, litigants may choose which judicial entity they would like to file the case with. This is assuming that the monetary figure is in the vicinity of $50,000, and can be manipulated to fit the situation. Concurrent jurisdiction is the basis for the federal courts trying an “increased” number of criminal cases. This theory of federal courts devoting more attention to criminal matters is termed Federalization. Rory Little, addresses the issue of who should adjudicate criminal matters, in her work Myths and Principles of Federalization. She discusses the dilemma of increased involvement of the federal courts in adjudicating criminal matters, and identifies the critic’s point of view. Here we must beg the question, why is there an increased involvement in these criminal matters, and what should be the guidelines for this federalization? Presently dominated by ad hoc policies, federal involvement should have some principled guidelines (Little, 1074).
Rory Little asserts that the Lone Range Plan has addressed this dilemma, but has not specified any clear principles that would satisfy necessary guidelines. Delegating principles, which would call for application of the federal courts, is a difficult task. The necessary language such as: “Unique” federal interests is too limited; “intrastate commerce” is too broad; and “strong” federal interests is too manipulable. (Little, 1078) Little herself suggests possible basis for Federalization in, failure of the state courts to rule accordingly, when criminal matters fall within concurrent jurisdiction. I agree with the point of view that federal courts need to intervene in criminal matters that have become a significant problem for society as a whole. Drug trafficking and possession of narcotics is a criminal matter that calls for increased federal intervention. This increased involvement by the federal courts in adjudicating drug trafficking cases is evident in the U.S. Supreme court decision, Smith v. United States. In this case, Smith traded his automatic weapon to an undercover officer for cocaine (FindLaw). Justice O’Connor delivered the opinion of the Court in a Certiorari that stated: “We decide today whether the exchange of a gun for narcotics constitutes “use” of a firearm “during and in relation to . . . [a] drug trafficking crime” within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1). We hold that it does.” (FindLaw) This is one of many decisions that the federal courts have ruled upon, broadening the scope of federal courts jurisdiction. Drug trafficking is only one issue that the federal courts have asserted increased involvement. Other criminal matters include racketeering, and car jacking.
Though there is some consensus as to the necessity of this new trend of intervention, critics of federalization provide a strong case as to whether this is healthy for the courts and the country. Their case underlies four main principles: work overload, open forum, dignity, and federalism concerns. Work overload refers to the conception that the federal court judges are trying so many criminal cases that they are neglecting their original focus of ruling in civil trials. Statistical evidence has proven otherwise; the main evidence being that more than fifty percent of all cases tried by the federal courts are civil. The other important evidence stems from the fact that there is not truly a workload “crisis” but rather the ratio of cases per judge has decreased since 1932. (Little) Rory Little uses this evidence to affirm her assertion that this is one of the myths of federalization. The second criticism of this trend lies in the open forum concern. This is the suggestion that the involvement in concurrent criminal court matters affects the ability of the federal courts to effectively enforce legislative plans, for which Congress relies on. (Little, 1047) The third criticism refers to the dignity aspect associated with Supreme Court judges. Should they be using their highly respected powers of litigation on mere cases that fall within the jurisdiction of state courts? Finally there is criticism stemming from federalism concerns. These are rooted in the “Constitutional conception of the union. The federal government, it is said, was created only to address limited and plainly national problems and its courts ought not interfere in state or local affairs without good reason and clear textual support from the Constitution.” (Little, 1061)
This trend of intervention, by the federal courts, sees have a positive affect on the relationship between the federal courts and the state courts. By taking on criminal cases that are becoming epidemic in proportion, the federal courts are setting precedent and relieving some of the pressures of the already overburdened state courts. Due to the respect for the federal courts and the federal court judges, the balance of power in between the state courts and the federal courts remains, though principles regarding federalization must be established in order for this balance to be maintained.
1. Glick, Henry. Courts, Politics, and Justice. McGraw-Hill,
New York, 1993.
2. Little, Rory K. Myths and Principles of Federalization.
3. http://laws.findlaw.com/US/508/223.html, “SMITH v. UNITED STATES, 508 U.S.223
(1993),” FindLaw, 1994-1999.