Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Intersections of State and Federal Power: State Judges, Federal Law and the Reliance Principle

48 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2006 Last revised: 24 Jun 2011

Lonny Hoffman

University of Houston Law Center

Date Written: February 24, 2006


Over the same time span that the Rehnquist Court established, albeit inconsistently, substantive limitations on state and local regulatory power, this article argues that it wavered far less often in marking clear jurisdictional boundaries for state courts in civil cases to decide questions of federal law. Although they tend to be less dramatic and less well known than decisions by the United States Supreme Court setting restrictions on legislative power, cases affecting the allocation of judicial jurisdiction often are found at the front line of battles over state and federal authority. Yet, despite their importance, little account has been given of the Rehnquist Court's more recent efforts to allocate judicial jurisdiction among the state and federal courts. The author offers both descriptive and normative claims, both of which collide in several key respects with conventional accounts regarding the Court's decisions over the last decade or so apportioning judicial decision-making authority in civil cases when questions of federal law or matters of federal interest are at stake. The author argues that it is possible to identify in the Court's doctrinal treatment of the scope of federal judicial power a prominent thematic principle of reliance on state judges. Where it applies, the Reliance Principle presumes congressional and, derivatively, judicial recognition of the competence of state court judges to adjudicate questions of federal law or matters deemed to be of federal importance. Recognition of the Rehnquist Court's firm insistence on the reliance principle suggests avenues of normative thinking about the allocation of judicial jurisdiction. Focusing on the Court's corresponding failure to adequately insist on a presumption against federal superintendence of state court authority in the class action context, the author exposes as excessive some of the arguments that have frequently been given voice in support of federal intrusion into state proceedings. This article thus frames an essential problem in the allocation of judicial jurisdiction: if the Court has insisted in other contexts on a presumptive reliance on state courts to interpret and apply federal law, would a similarly high but rebuttable presumption of state court competence be as effective - both in and outside of the class action context - in vindicating federal interests, while minimizing the occasions when excessive arguments for federal oversight of state proceedings are carelessly accepted?

Keywords: Rehnquist Court, judicial jurisdiction, judicial decision-making authority, Reliance Principle, federal intrusion

JEL Classification: H73, K49, K19, Z00

Suggested Citation

Hoffman, Lonny, Intersections of State and Federal Power: State Judges, Federal Law and the Reliance Principle (February 24, 2006). Tulane Law Review, Vol. 81, p. 283, 2006; University of Houston Law Center Research Paper No. 2006-W-05; University of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 108. Available at SSRN: or

Lonny Hoffman (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States
713-743-5206 (Phone)

Paper statistics

Abstract Views