California Supreme Court’s interpretation of a state statute or municipal ordinance will be respected as authoritative even by the U.S. Supreme Court—unless it involves a constitutional question, in which case the U.S. Supreme Court becomes the final arbiter. The existence of a dual court system and the limited jurisdictional reach of the vast majority of courts make it highly probable that courts will render conflicting decisions on a legal issue.
The appellate process provides a forum for resolving these conflicts if the cases are appealed. If no appeal is made, the conflict remains. For example, a federal district court in the Southern District of Ohio may rule that jail detainees are entitled to contact visits, whereas another federal district court in the Northern District of that state, on a different case, may rule otherwise. However, this inconsistency will be resolved only if the federal appellate court for Ohio decides the issue in an appealed case.
Despite the territorial or geographic limitations of court decisions, there are important reasons why decisions from other jurisdictions should not be ignored. First, there may be no settled law on an issue in a given area. When the issue has not been decided previously by a local court (known as a case of first impression), the local federal or state court will probably decide it on the basis of the dominant, or “better,” rule that is being applied elsewhere.