I was reading an Op-Ed in The New York Times this morning about Alabama’s legal battle over gay marriage and was stunned to read this paragraph (underline mine):
Since the United States Supreme Court will rule on gay marriage in June, it’s easy to dismiss the Alabama court’s ruling as quixotic. But it raises a real issue: not what state courts can do, but rather what they should do. Because state and federal courts operate on entirely separate tracks, the state court’s position that it need not follow lower federal court rulings is technically correct. Yet if our judicial system is to function smoothly, both court systems must, from time to time, refrain from exercising their legal discretion to ignore the other’s handiwork.
Don’t ask me to weigh-in on the legal analysis. I’m not prepared to do that in a way that could either gainsay or confirm the argument presented here. Still, I have been under the impression that a federal court’s ruling always trumps that of a state court. The law professor who wrote this piece says that is incorrect, even though he believes state courts should ordinarily defer to federal court rulings. Read the rest here.