For ages, judges and legal academics have claimed that federal question jurisdiction has three purposes: to provide litigants with a judge experienced in federal law, to protect litigants from state court hostility toward federal claims, and to preserve uniformity in federal law. Because federal claims, for the most part, have always been cognizable in state courts, these purposes imply that state courts are less experienced, more hostile, and more likely to adjudicate federal law in ways that decrease the uniformity of federal law. Despite the ongoing allegiance to this conception of federal question jurisdictionand by implication, state court adjudication of federal questions--0ne would be hard-pressed to find much research assessing the performance of state courts in these areas.
This Article explores these issues by relying on a fifteen-state study of state civil opinions resolving federal questions. The study reveals several reasons to doubt the claim that state court adjudication of federal law will automatically decrease the uniformity of federal law. In contrast, the study suggests that federal courts are indeed more experienced in federal law, though their comparative experience is not uniform across all areas of federal law. With regard to the presumed hostility of state courts toward federal claims, this Article joins other scholars in questioning whether such a thesis may ever be reliably employed in the federal courts field. After addressing the three presumed purposes of federal question jurisdiction, the Article identifies an additional purpose that is rarely acknowledged in scholarship on the subject. That is, federal question jurisdiction promotes the federal government's sovereignty interests by allowing it to control the content of federal law. Without federal question jurisdiction, the federal government would only be able to control the interpretation of federal law through Supreme Court review of state decisions, which is quite limited in practice. After defining the role of federal question jurisdiction as one of experience and control, the Article concludes by briefiy discussing the impact of these findings on the jurisdictional questions faced by courts and Congress.
John F. Pries, Reassessing the Purposes of Federal Question Jurisdiction, 42 Wake Forest L. Rev. 247 (2007).