If the facts describe a lawsuit that takes place in federal court (or a state-court lawsuit that is eventually heard by the U.S. Supreme Court) be alert to limits on the federal judicial power:
* State-court decisions: If the facts involve a state-court suit that is heard by the Supreme Court on certiorari, be sure that the state-court decision was based on federal law.
+ Independent & adequate state ground: Be alert to the possible existence of an independent and adequate state ground. That is, if the state court decided some issue of state law in a way that would have been enough to dispose of the case, there is no federal issue that is vital to the case, and the Supreme Court may not decide the federal issue. In particular, be alert for fact patterns where a state and federal constitutional provision cover the same territory — the state court might have decided the state issue as solely a matter of state law, in which case there would be no federal issue necessary to the case.
* Limitations by Congress: If a fact pattern involves an attempt by Congress to limit the power of either the Supreme Court or the lower federal courts, the main things to remember are:
+ No expansion beyond constitutional limits: Congress can within limits cut back on the kinds of cases the Supreme Court may hear, but cannot expand the case load beyond the categories set forth as the federal judicial power in the Constitution; and
+ Lower-federal-court jurisdiction: Congress may cut back, perhaps even completely eliminate, the lower federal courts; as with the Supreme Court, Congress may not expand the lower courts’ dockets beyond the bounds of the constitutional federal judicial power.