Relations between the Federal and State Courts

By Mitchell Wendell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
STATE STATUTES

VIEWED through the eyes of the states, the great danger in the Tyson Doctrine was to be found in the inter-relation among the various branches of the common law. Commerce blended into contract: contract merged with the whole body of general law; and when this point had been reached, torts and even real property fought an unequal battle against the desire of the national judiciary to free itself from unquestioning obedience to local law. Only the self restraint of federal judges could protect the states from the encroaching national power. In the case of state constitutions and statutes, however, one might have expected local law to fare better. A national court might have to decide whether a given legislative enactment was applicable to the case before it, but once this had been done, the danger should have been passed. In Swift v. Tyson, Story had expressly remarked on the peculiar deference owing to local statutes and had thereby served notice that he intended no change in this field, for it had been the custom of the federal tribunals to accept a state's interpretation of its own statutes. A number of cases might be detailed in order to support this proposition; but Green v. Neal1 is particularly good illustration of the point because it presents the problem with unusual clarity.

Tennessee, during the decades immediately following its separation from the parent state of North Carolina, was largely composed of virgin territory. As a consequence, the number of persons claiming land because of long possession, and not by virtue of any deed, was unusually large. The local statute of limitations that set the conditions under which these squatters became entitled to the land upon which they lived was, therefore, of particular importance. The highest court of the State

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1
6 Pet. 291 ( 1832).

-136-

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