Previously I asked about "What happens if a single justice recuses his or herself from the healthcare reform case and the decision ends in a deadlock?" I received a number of good responses that basically said the lower court decision would stand. That confuses me somewhat since the case they picked has 26 states. What ruling counts for those states within the 26 that are governed by another circuit that has ruled differently?
Thanks so much for the responses. Very intriguing stuff. If I only it were this intriguing back in school.
2 Answers from Attorneys
As I understand it, the Supreme Court thus far has only agreed to hear the 11th Circuit case. That circuit's rulings only apply in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. A 4-4 vote would leave the law unsettled in 47 other states.
Mr. Ashman is partially right.
If the Eleventh Circuit's decision stands, only federal courts in Florida, Georgia and Alabama would be obliged to follow it. Courts in other states, including states which are plaintiffs in that case, would not. But the decision would remain binding on the parties. This means that the legislative and executive branches of the other states' governments would be subject to the decision but that federal courts in those states -- and perhaps state courts as well -- would not.
That may be a bit confusing, so let me offer an illustration. Nebraska is a plaintiff in the case, and it is subject to the Eleventh Circuit's decision even though it is not within that circuit. But if I live in Nebraska and want to challenge the law in a local court, the fact that my state lost its case would not control the outcome of my case. The decision would only be binding on the government of Nebraska, not on its residents. That is because Nebraska was a party to the case but is outside the Eleventh Circuit's territory.
The Eleventh Circuit ordinarily would not have jurisdiction over the government of Nebraska. But Nebraska chose to submit to that court's jurisdiction by bringing a lawsuit in a federal court in Florida. This gives the court jurisdiction over the state for purposes of this one lawsuit, even though it lacks jurisdiction over the state for other purposes.
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