In the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress provided that civil actions commenced in the state courts which could have been brought in the original jurisdiction of the inferior federal courts could be removed by the defendant from the state court to the federal court.1459 Generally, as Congress expanded the original jurisdiction of the inferior federal courts, it similarly expanded removal jurisdiction.1460 Although there is potentiality for intra-court conflict here, of course, in the implied mistrust of state courts’ willingness or ability to protect federal interests, it is rather with regard to the limited areas of removal that do not correspond to federal court original jurisdiction that the greatest amount of conflict is likely to arise.
If a federal officer is sued or prosecuted in a state court for acts done under color of law1461 or if a federal employee is sued for a wrongful or negligent act that the Attorney General certifies was done while she was acting within the scope of her employment,1462 the actions may be removed. But the statute most open to federal-state court dispute is the civil rights removal law, which authorizes removal of any action, civil or criminal, which is commenced in a state court “[a]gainst any person who is denied or cannot enforce in the courts of such State a right under any law providing for the equal civil rights of citizens of the United States, or of all persons within the jurisdiction thereof.”1463 In the years after enactment of this statute, however, the court narrowly construed the removal privilege granted,1464 and recent decisions for the most part confirm this restrictive interpretation,1465 so that instances of successful resort to the statute are fairly rare.
Thus, the Court’s position holds, one may not obtain removal simply by an assertion that he is being denied equal rights or that he cannot enforce the law granting equal rights. Because the removal statute requires the denial to be “in the courts of such State,” the pretrial conduct of police and prosecutors was deemed irrelevant, because it afforded no basis for predicting that state courts would not vindicate the federal rights of defendants.1466 Moreover, in predicting a denial of rights, only an assertion founded on a facially unconstitutional state statute denying the right in question would suffice. From the existence of such a law, it could be predicted that defendant’s rights would be denied.1467 Furthermore, the removal statute’s reference to “any law providing for . . . equal rights” covered only laws “providing for specific civil rights stated in terms of racial equality.”1468 Thus, apparently federal constitutional provisions and many general federal laws do not qualify as a basis for such removal.1469
- § 12, 1 Stat. 79. The removal provision contained the same jurisdictional amount requirement as the original jurisdictional statute. It applied in the main to aliens and defendants not residents of the state in which suit was brought. [Back to text]
- Thus the Act of March 3, 1875, § 2, 18 Stat. 470, conferring federal question jurisdiction on the inferior federal courts, provided for removal of such actions. The constitutionality of congressional authorization for removal is well-established. Chicago & N.W. Ry. v. Whitton’s Administrator, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 270 (1871); Tennessee v. Davis, 100 U.S. 257 (1880); Ames v. Kansas ex rel. Johnston, 111 U.S. 449 (1884). See City of Greenwood v. Peacock, 384 U.S. 808, 833 (1966). [Back to text]
- See 28 U.S.C. § 1442. This statute had its origins in the Act of February 4, 1815, § 8, 3 Stat. 198 (removal of civil and criminal actions against federal customs officers for official acts), and the Act of March 2, 1833, § 3, 4 Stat. 633 (removal of civil and criminal actions against federal officers on account of acts done under the revenue laws), both of which grew out of disputes arising when certain states attempted to nullify federal laws, and the Act of March 3, 1863, § 5, 12 Stat. 756 (removal of civil and criminal actions against federal officers for acts done during the existence of the Civil War under color of federal authority). In Mesa v. California, 489 U.S. 121 (1989), the Court held that the statute authorized federal officer removal only when the defendant avers a federal defense. See Willingham v. Morgan, 395 U.S. 402 (1969). [Back to text]
- 28 U.S.C. § 2679(d), enacted after Westfall v. Erwin, 484 U.S. 292 (1988). [Back to text]
- 28 U.S.C. § 1443(1). Subsection (2) provides for the removal of state court actions “[f]or any act under color of authority derived from any law providing for equal rights, or for refusing to do any act on the ground that it would be inconsistent with such law.” This subsection “is available only to federal officers and to persons assisting such officers in the performance of their official duties.” City of Greenwood v. Peacock, 384 U.S. 808, 815 (1966). [Back to text]
- Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880); Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.S. 313 (1880); Neal v. Delaware, 103 U.S. 370 (1881); Bush v. Kentucky, 107 U.S. 110 (1883); Gibson v. Mississippi, 162 U.S. 565 (1896); Smith v. Mississippi, 162 U.S. 592 (1896); Murray v. Louisiana, 163 U.S. 101 (1896); Williams v. Mississippi, 170 U.S. 213 (1898); Kentucky v. Powers, 201 U.S. 1 (1906). [Back to text]
- Georgia v. Rachel, 384 U.S. 780 (1966); City of Greenwood v. Peacock, 384 U.S. 808 (1966). There was a hiatus of cases reviewing removal from 1906 to 1966 because from 1887 to 1964 there was no provision for an appeal of an order of a federal court remanding a removed case to the state courts. § 901 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 266, 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d). [Back to text]
- Georgia v. Rachel, 384 U.S. 780, 803 (1966); City of Greenwood v. Peacock, 384 U.S. 808, 827 (1966). Justice Douglas in dissent, joined by Justices Black, Fortas, and Chief Justice Warren, argued that “in the courts of such State” modified only “cannot enforce,” so that one could be denied rights prior to as well as during a trial and police and prosecutorial conduct would be relevant. Alternately, he argued that state courts could be implicated in the denial prior to trial by certain actions. Id. at 844–55. [Back to text]
- Georgia v. Rachel, 384 U.S. 780, 797–802 (1966). Thus, in Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880), African-Americans were excluded by statute from service on grand and petit juries, and it was held that a black defendant’s criminal indictment should have been removed because federal law secured nondiscriminatory jury service and it could be predicted that he would be denied his rights before a discriminatorily selected state jury. In Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.S. 313 (1880), there was no state statute, but there was exclusion of Negroes from juries pursuant to custom and removal was denied. In Neal v. Delaware, 103 U.S. 370 (1880), the state provision authorizing discrimination in jury selection had been held invalid under federal law by a state court, and a similar situation existed in Bush v. Kentucky, 107 U.S. 110 (1882). Removal was denied in both cases. The dissenters in City of Greenwood v. Peacock, 384 U.S. 808, 848–52 (1966), argued that federal courts should consider facially valid statutes which might be applied unconstitutionally and state court enforcement of custom as well in evaluating whether a removal petitioner could enforce his federal rights in state court. [Back to text]
- Georgia v. Rachel, 384 U.S. 780, 788–94 (1966); City of Greenwood v. Peacock, 384 U.S. 808, 824–27 (1966), See also id. at 847–48 (Justice Douglas dissenting). [Back to text]
- City of Greenwood v. Peacock, 384 U.S. at 824–27. See also Johnson v. Mississippi, 421 U.S. 213 (1975). [Back to text]