CRS Annotated Constitution

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Anti–Injunction Statute.—For reasons unknown,1175 Congress in 1793 enacted a statute to prohibit the issuance of injunctions by federal courts to stay state court proceedings.1176 Over time, a long list of exceptions to the statutory bar was created by judicial decision,1177 but in Toucey v. New York Life Ins. Co.,1178 the Court in a lengthy opinion by Justice Frankfurter announced a very liberal interpretation of the anti–junction statute so as to do away with practically all the exceptions that had been created. Congress’ response was to redraft the statute and to indicate that it was restoring the pre–Toucey interpretation.1179 Considerable disagreement exists over the application of the statute, however, and especially with regard to the exceptions permissible under its language. The present tendency appears to be to read the law expansively and the exceptions restrictively in the interest of preventing conflict with state courts.1180 Nonetheless, some exceptions do exist, either expressly or implicitly in statutory language1181 or[p.802]through Court interpretation.1182 The Court’s general policy of application, however, seems to a considerable degree to effectuate what is now at least the major rationale of the statute, deference to state court adjudication of issues presented to them for decision.1183

Res Judicata.—Both the Constitution and a contemporaneously– enacted statute require federal courts to give “full faith and credit” to state court judgments, to give, that is, preclusive effect to state court judgments when those judgments would be given preclusive effect by the courts of that State.1184 The present Court views the interpretation of “full faith and credit” in the overall context of deference to state courts running throughout this section. “Thus, res judicata and collateral estoppel not only reduce unnecessary litigation and foster reliance on adjudication, but also promote the comity between state and federal courts that has been recognized as a bulwark of the federal system.”1185 The Court in this case, after reviewing enactment of the statute that is now 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 , held that Sec. 1983 is not an exception to the mandate of the res judicata statute.1186 An exception to Sec. 1738 “will not be recognized unless a later statute contains an express or implied partial repeal.”1187 Thus, a claimant who pursued his employment discrimination remedies through state administrative procedures, as the federal law requires her to do (within limits), and then appealed an adverse state agency decision to state court will be precluded from bringing her federal claim to federal court, since the[p.803]federal court is obligated to give the state court decision “full faith and credit.”1188

Three–Judge Court Act.—When the Court in Ex parte Young1189 held that federal courts were not precluded by the Eleventh Amendment from restraining state officers from enforcing state laws determined to be in violation of the federal Constitution, serious efforts were made in Congress to take away the authority thus asserted, but the result instead was legislation providing that suits in which an interlocutory injunction was sought against the enforcement of state statutes by state officers were to be heard by a panel of three federal judges, rather than by a single district judge, with appeal direct to the Supreme Court.1190 The provision was designed to assuage state feeling by vesting such determinations in a court more prestigious than a single– judge district court, to assure a more authoritative determination, and to prevent the assertion of individual predilections in sensitive and emotional areas.1191 Because, however, of the heavy burden that convening a three–judge court placed on the judiciary and that the direct appeals placed on the Supreme Court, the provisions for such courts, save in cases “when otherwise required by an Act of Congress”1192 or in cases involving state legislative or congressional districting, were repealed in Congress in 1976.1193

Conflicts of Jurisdiction; Federal Court Interference with State Courts

One challenging the constitutionality, under the United States Constitution, of state actions, statutory or otherwise, could, of course, bring suit in state court; indeed, in the time before conferral of federal–question jurisdiction on lower federal courts plaintiffs had to bring actions in state courts, and on some occasions now, this has been done.1194 But the usual course is to sue in federal[p.804]court for either an injunction or a declaratory judgment or both. In an era in which landmark decisions of the Supreme Court and of inferior federal courts have been handed down voiding racial segregation requirements, legislative apportionment and congressional districting, abortion regulations, and many other state laws and policies, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which it might be impossible to obtain such rulings because no one required as a defendant could be sued. Yet, the adoption of the Eleventh Amendment in 1798 resulted in the immunity of the State,1195 and the immunity of state officers if the action upon which they were being sued was state action,1196 from suit without the State’s consent. Ex parte Young1197 is a seminal case in American constitutional law because it created a fiction by which the validity of state statutes and other actions could be challenged by suits against state officers as individuals.1198


1175 Toucey v. New York Life Ins. Co., 314 U.S. 118, 130–132 (1941).
1176 “[N]or shall a writ of injunction be granted to stay proceedings in any court of a state; . . .” Sec. 5, 1 Stat. 334 (1793), now, as amended, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2283 .
1177 Durfee & Sloss, Federal Injunctions Against Proceedings in State Courts: The Life History of a Statute, 30 L. Rev.1145 (1932).
1178 314 U.S. 118 (1941).
1179 “A Court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments.” 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2283 . The Reviser’s Note is appended to the statute, stating intent.
1180 Amalgamated Clothing Workers v. Richman Bros., 348 U.S. 511 (1955); Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281 (1970). See M. Redish, Federal Jurisdiction: Tensions in the Allocation of Judicial Power (Charlottesville: 1980), ch. 10.
1181 The greatest difficulty is with the “expressly authorized by Act of Congress” exception. No other Act of Congress expressly refers to Sec. 2283 and the Court has indicated that no such reference is necessary to create a statutory exception. Amalgamated Clothing Workers v. Richman Bros., 348 U.S. 511, 516 (1955). Compare Capital Serv, Inc. v. NLRB, 347 U.S. 501 (1954). Rather, “in order to qualify as an ‘expressly authorized’ exception to the anti–injunction statute, an Act of Congress must have created a specific and uniquely federal right or remedy, enforceable in a federal court of equity, that could be frustrated if the federal court were not empowered to enjoin a state court proceeding.” Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 237 (1972). Applying this test, the Court in Mitchum held that a 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 suit is an exception to Sec. 2283 and that persons suing under this authority may, if they satisfy the requirements of comity, obtain an injunction against state court proceedings. The exception is, of course, highly constrained by the comity principle. On the difficulty of applying the test, see Vendo Co. v. Lektco–Vend Corp., 433 U.S. 623 (1977) (fragmented Court on whether Clayton Act authorization of private suits for injunctive relief is an “expressly authorized” exception to Sec. 2283).
On the interpretation of the Sec. 2283 exception for injunctions to protect or effectuate a federal–court judgment, see Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp., 486 U.S. 140 (1988).
1182 Thus, the Act bars federal court restraint of pending state court proceedings but not restraint of the institution of such proceedings. Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 484 n. 2 (1965). Restraint is not barred if sought by the United States or an officer or agency of the United States. Leiter Minerals v. United States, 352 U.S. 220 (1957); NLRB v. Nash–Finch Co., 404 U.S. 138 (1971). Restraint is not barred if the state court proceeding is not judicial but rather administrative. Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co., 211 U.S. 210 (1908); Roudebush v. Hartke, 405 U.S. 15 (1972). Compare Hill v. Martin, 296 U.S. 393, 403 (1935), with Lynch v. Household Finance Corp., 405 U.S. 538, 552–556 (1972).
1183 The statute is to be applied “to prevent needless friction between state and federal courts.” Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., 309 U.S. 4, 9 (1940); Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 285–286 (1970).
1184 Article IV, Sec. 1, of the Constitution; 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1738 .
1185 Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 95–96 (1980).
1186 Id., 96–105. There were three dissenters. Id., 105 (Justices Blackmun, Brennan, and Marshall). In England v. Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, 375 U.S. 411 (1964), the Court held that when parties are compelled to go to state court under Pullman abstention, either party may reserve the federal issue and thus be enabled to return to federal court without being barred by res judicata.
1187 Kramer v. Chemical Construction Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 468 (1982).
1188 Id., 468–476. There were four dissents. Id., 486 (Justices Blackmun, Brennan, and Marshall), 508 (Stevens).
1189 209 U.S. 123 (1908).
1190 36 Stat. 557 (1910). The statute was amended in 1925 to apply to requests for permanent injunctions, 43 Stat. 936 , and again in 1937 to apply to constitutional attacks on federal statutes. 50 Stat. 752 .
1191 Swift & Co. v. Wickham, 382 U.S. 111, 119 (1965); Ex parte Collins, 277 U.S. 565, 567 (1928).
1192 These now are primarily limited to suits under the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973b (a), 1973c, 1973h(c), and to certain suits by the Attorney General under public accommodations and equal employment provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000a –5(b), 2000e–6(b).
1193 Pub. L. 94–381, 90 Stat. 1119 , 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2284 . In actions still required to be heard by three–judge courts, direct appeals are still available to the Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1253 .
1194 For example, one of the cases decided in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), came from the Supreme Court of Delaware. In Scott v. Germano, 381 U.S. 407 (1965), the Court set aside an order of the district court refusing to defer to the state court which was hearing an apportionment suit and said: “The power of the judiciary of a State to require valid reapportionment or to formulate a valid redistricting plan has not only been recognized by this Court but appropriate action by the States has been specifically encouraged.” See also Scranton v. Drew, 379 U.S. 40 (1964).
1195 By its terms, the Eleventh Amendment bars only suits against a State by citizens of other States, but in Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890), the Court deemed it to embody principles of sovereign immunity which applied to unconsented suits by its own citizens.
1196 In re Ayers, 123 U.S. 443 (1887).
1197 209 U.S. 123 (1908).
1198 The fiction is that while the official is a state actor for purposes of suit against him, the claim that his action is unconstitutional removes the imprimatur of the State that would shield him under the Eleventh Amendment. Id., 159–160.
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