Noncompliance With and Disobedience of Supreme Court Orders by State Courts.

The United States Supreme Court when deciding cases on review from the state courts usually remands the case to the state court when it reverses for “proceedings not inconsistent” with the Court’s opinion. This disposition leaves open the possibility that unresolved issues of state law will be decided adversely to the party prevailing in the Supreme Court or that the state court will so interpret the facts or the Court’s opinion to the detriment of the party prevailing in the Supreme Court.1302 When it is alleged that the state court has deviated from the Supreme Court’s mandate, the party losing below may appeal again1303 or she may presumably apply for mandamus to compel compliance.1304 Statutorily, the Court may attempt to overcome state recalcitrance by a variety of specific forms of judgment.1305 If, however, the state courts simply defy the mandate of the Court, difficult problems face the Court, extending to the possibility of contempt citations.1306

The most spectacular disobedience of federal authority arose out of the conflict between the Cherokees and the State of Georgia, which was seeking to remove them and seize their lands with the active support of President Jackson.1307 In the first instance, after the Court had issued a writ of error to the Georgia Supreme Court to review the murder conviction of a Cherokee, Corn Tassel, and after the writ was served, Corn Tassel was executed on the day set for the hearing, contrary to the federal law that a writ of error superseded sentence until the appeal was decided.1308 Two years later, Georgia again defied the Court, when, in Worcester v. Georgia,1309 it set aside the conviction of two missionaries for residing among the Indians without a license. Despite the issuance of a special mandate to a local court to discharge the missionaries, they were not released, and the state’s governor loudly proclaimed resistance. Consequently, the two remained in jail until they agreed to abandon further efforts for their discharge by federal authority and to leave the state, whereupon the governor pardoned them.

Footnotes

1302
Hart & Wechsler (6th ed.), supra at 431–531. Notable examples include Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 304 (1816); Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 264 (1821); Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. (21 How.) 506 (1859). For studies, see Note, Final Disposition of State Court Decisions Reversed and Remanded by the Supreme Court, October Term 1931 to October Term 1940, 55 HARV. L. REV. 1357 (1942); Note, Evasion of Supreme Court Mandates in Cases Remanded to State Courts Since 1941, 67 H1941, 67 HARV. L. REV. 1251 (1954); Schneider, State Court Evasion of United States Supreme Court Mandates: A Reconsideration of the Evidence, 7 VALP. U. L. REV. 191 (1973). [Back to text]
1303
Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 304 (1816). See 2 W. CROSSKEY, POLITICS AND THE CONSTITUTION IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES 785–817 (1953); 1 C. WARREN, THE SUPREME COURT IN UNITED STATES HISTORY 442–453 (1926). For recent examples, see NAACP v. Alabama, 360 U.S. 240, 245 (1959); NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Flowers, 377 U.S. 288 (1964), after remand, 277 Ala. 89, 167 So.2d 171 (1964); Stanton v. Stanton, 429 U.S. 501 (1977); General Atomic Co. v. Felter, 436 U.S. 493 (1978). [Back to text]
1304
It does not appear that mandamus has ever actually issued. See In re Blake, 175 U.S. 114 (1899); Ex parte Texas, 315 U.S. 8 (1942); Fisher v. Hurst, 333 U.S. 147 (1948); Lavender v. Clark, 329 U.S. 674 (1946); General Atomic Co. v. Felter, 436 U.S. 493 (1978). [Back to text]
1305
Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 304 (1816); McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316, 437 (1819); Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1, 239 (1824); Williams v. Bruffy, 102 U.S. 248 (1880) (entry of judgment); Tyler v. Maguire, 84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 253 (1873) (award of execution); Stanley v. Schwalby, 162 U.S. 255 (1896); Virginia Coupon Cases (Poindexter v. Greenhow), 114 U.S. 270 (1885) (remand with direction to enter a specific judgment). See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1651(a), 2106. [Back to text]
1306
See 18 U.S.C. § 401. In United States v. Shipp, 203 U.S. 563 (1906), 214 U.S. 386 (1909); 215 U.S. 580 (1909), on action by the Attorney General, the Court appointed a commissioner to take testimony, rendered judgment of conviction, and imposed sentence on a state sheriff who had conspired with others to cause the lynching of a prisoner in his custody after the Court had allowed an appeal from a circuit court’s denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. A question whether a probate judge was guilty of contempt of an order of the Court in failing to place certain candidates on the ballot was certified to the district court, over the objections of Justices Douglas and Harlan, who wished to follow the Shipp practice. In re Herndon, 394 U.S. 399 (1969). See In re Herndon, 325 F. Supp. 779 (M.D. Ala. 1971). [Back to text]
1307
1 C. Warren, supra at 729–79. [Back to text]
1308
Id. at 732–36. [Back to text]
1309
31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515 (1832). [Back to text]