What happens if federal appeals courts give split opinions on constitutionality of a federal statute?
September 15, 2012 2:27 AM   Subscribe

If multiple federal Appeals Courts issue differing opinions on the constitutionality of a federal statute (like with the federal healthcare law), what happens if the Supreme Court doesn't take the case?

Does the law apply only in different parts of the country (apply in jurisdictions that upheld and not in others)?
posted by denverco to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Essentially, yes. The law depends on how the appeals court that's in charge of your state decided its version of the case. It's known as a circuit split, and the Supreme Court hates them; a circuit split on a major federal law would be virtually guaranteed to be reviewed, because of the many obvious problems with having, say, Obamacare only apply in some states.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:59 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know that it is accurate to say that SCOTUS hates circuit splits. The short answer is, "it depends". For example, a number of years ago, SCOTUS declined to review a case that would have resolved a circuit split on which party bears the proof in an ADA "direct threat" case. There is now a three-way split. In my creditor's rights practice, there is a circuit split regarding the relation of the FDCPA to mortgage foreclosure.

I also have to deal with this in the state law context. My state is divided into several intermediate appellate districts, and while there is almost always agreement between them, there are sometimes differences. For example, there is a district split upon whether expert testimony is required for a hearing awarding attorney's fees. About two years ago, our state supreme court accepted the issue and then declined jurisdiction, so that split remains in place. For this reason, I always have to prioritize the district case law of the court I am litigating in when preparing a brief.

But, to shortly answer the OP's question, yes, how the law is applied and interpreted would vary from circuit to circuit.
posted by Tanizaki at 5:35 AM on September 15, 2012

Well, yeah. SCOTUS is more likely to review a circuit split, but there's so many different cases fighting for their time that very few cases are ever a sure thing.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:26 AM on September 15, 2012

Supreme Court jurisdiction over rulings on constitutionality of statutes used to be mandatory, but isnt anymore. Even so, the Court would almost certainly grant cert in any case where there was a circuit split on the constitutionality of a major federal law - and even if there wasn't a split, would review the case, especially if the statute had been ruled unconstitutuonal.
posted by yarly at 7:29 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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