State Courts, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Protection of Civil Liberties


  • We thank Craig F. Emmert and Carol Ann Traut for their comments and suggestions, and Kenneth Sheppard, Carrie Myers, and Leena Sidhu for research assistance.

Please address correspondence to Robert M. Howard, Department of Political Science, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30302-4069; e-mail:


Advocates of federalism, both in the United States and elsewhere, often cite the potential for enhanced protection of individual civil liberties as an emerging rationale for a federal system dividing governmental responsibilities between central and regional governments and central and regional judiciaries. Echoing this, some judicial officials and scholars, confronting an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court, have called for state supreme courts to use the state constitutional grounds to preserve and increase the protections of the Bill of Rights. Using event count analysis, we examine state search-and-seizure cases for 1981 to 1993 to ascertain under what circumstances state courts would use this opportunity to eliminate Supreme Court review. We find that the relative ideological position of the state supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court often prevents, or does away with the need for, liberal courts to use the adequate and independent state grounds doctrine to expand the rights of criminal defendants and that state supreme court justices react more predictably in the assertion of constitutional protection law than the general consensus suggests.