What if the federal government prevails in a case brought by a private citizen who alleges that his rights were violated by the government and then the government loses?
That would be a remarkable outcome for the American legal system, as well as a stunning victory for civil liberties advocates, who have long argued that courts should defer to the wishes of the citizens who elected them.
For decades, the Supreme Court has deferred to the government when it comes to a number of issues, including when it suits to strike down the federal constitution or when a state courts overrules the federal courts.
The court has even ruled that it’s the duty of state courts to override a federal court ruling, while in the past it has also sided with state courts when it came to a dispute involving the scope of a federal statute.
But the latest decision by the Supreme Judicial Court is a departure from the current trend.
In a 5-4 ruling on Wednesday, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, said the U.S. Supreme Court should defer entirely to state courts on any questions of federal constitutional law.
The decision comes after the Supreme Judiciary Committee in March 2015 recommended that the court defer to state decisions in federal constitutional cases.
But Kagan and Alito didn’t immediately say when they would rule on whether to move to that recommendation.
This is not the first time that the high court has taken a position against the federal judiciary.
The conservative-leaning Roberts Court has also ruled that states have the authority to override federal laws that conflict with their states’ constitutions.