From our early civics lessons we know that there are two court systems in the United States judiciary-federal and state. On this CourtReference site, we focus exclusively on the courts from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. State courts have broad jurisdiction to interpret the laws that govern our everyday lives: where we live, where we work, with whom we marry, procreate, and divorce (or any combination thereof!), and where we ultimately may be laid to rest. From cradle to grave, we abide by the laws of our resident state, and are subject to the rulings from our state courts.
But we also recall from our civic education that we are subject to a “dual sovereignty” of federal and state governance. Under the United States system, power is shared between both entities. The US Constitution expressly grants certain powers to the federal government and reserves the remainder to the states. As James Madison delineated the authority of the federal government to the state governments in the Federalist Papers (Number 45):
… The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
(Source: Library of Congress, THOMAS, The Federalist Papers)
Too pedantic for practical purposes? Regarding our dual court systems, federal courts resolve disputes involving the US Constitution and laws and regulations passed by Congress. Federal courts also have exclusive jurisdiction over:
1) cases in which the United States is a party;
2) cases between citizens of different states, if the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000; and
3) cases involving bankruptcy, copyright, interstate and international commerce, maritime, and patent law.
State courts retain jurisdiction over issues involving the state constitution and laws and regulations passed by the state legislature. State courts also preside over state civil and contractual disputes, state criminal offenses, family law, personal and professional injury (workers’ compensation) claims, real property, probate, and traffic disputes. There may be other causes of action not listed here, but generally speaking, state courts preside over matters that individual citizens commonly encounter. On this CourtReference site, you can find your state, county, municipal or specialty court, with links providing valuable information about each court’s services, programs, resources, and contact information. All for free! So, if you find yourself involved in any of the above actions, your recourse will be state court, but your preparation should start with CourtReference!
In conclusion, where we live profoundly impacts how we live. Think about the compelling and controversial issues of the day. Do you support same-sex marriage? 17 states permit marriage for same-sex couples (at the time of this publication). Do you prefer to live in a “duty to retreat” state or a “stand your ground” state in terms of self-defense? Currently, 31 states allow a “stand your ground” justification for the use of deadly force in self-defense. Whether you prefer to reside in a “right to work” state or one that offers “death with dignity” options for end-of-life decisions, the choice of where you call “home” will define the course, quality, and values of your daily life.