Appellee is an adult resident of Hartford, Wis. She brought suit in a federal district court in Wisconsin to have a Wisconsin statute declared unconstitutional.
The Act, Wis. Stat. § 176.26 (1967), provides that designated persons may in writing forbid the sale or gift of intoxicating liquors to one who "by excessive drinking" produces described conditions or exhibits specified traits, such as exposing himself or family "to want" or becoming "dangerous to the peace" of the community.
We have no doubt as to the power of a State to deal with the evils described in the Act. The police power of the States over intoxicating liquors was extremely broad even prior to the Twenty-first Amendment. Crane v. Campbell, 245 U.S. 304. The only issue present here is whether the label or characterization given a person by "posting," though a mark of serious illness to some, is to others such a stigma or badge of disgrace that procedural due process requires notice and an opportunity to be heard. We agree with the District Court that the private interest is such that those requirements of procedural due process must be met.
It is significant that most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights are procedural, for it is procedure that marks much of the difference between rule by law and rule by fiat.
We reviewed in Cafeteria Workers v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 895, the nature of the various "private interest[s]" that have fallen on one side or the other of the line. See also Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp., 395 U.S. 337, 339-342. Generalizations are hazardous as some state and federal administrative procedures are summary
Where a person's good name, reputation, honor, or integrity is at stake because of what the government is doing to him, notice and an opportunity to be heard are essential. "Posting" under the Wisconsin Act may to some be merely the mark of illness, to others it is a stigma, an official branding of a person. The label is a degrading one. Under the Wisconsin Act, a resident of Hartford is given no process at all. This appellee was not afforded a chance to defend herself. She may have been the victim of an official's caprice. Only when the whole proceedings leading to the pinning of an unsavory label on a person are aired can oppressive results be prevented.
It is suggested that the three-judge court should have stayed its hand while the aggrieved person repaired to the state courts to obtain a construction of the Act or relief from it. The fact that Wisconsin does not raise the point does not, of course, mean that it lacks merit. Yet the suggestion is not in keeping with the precedents.
Congress could, of course, have routed all federal constitutional questions through the state court systems, saving to this Court the final say when it came to review of the state court judgments. But our First Congress
In the present case the Wisconsin Act does not contain any provision whatsoever for notice and hearing. There is no ambiguity in the state statute. There are no provisions which could fairly be taken to mean that notice and hearing might be given under some circumstances or under some construction but not under others. The Act on its face gives the chief of police the power to do what he did to the appellee. Hence the naked question, uncomplicated by an unresolved state law, is whether that Act on its face is unconstitutional. As we said in Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241, 251, abstention should not be ordered merely to await an attempt to vindicate the claim in a state court. Where there is no ambiguity in the state statute, the federal court should not abstain but should proceed to decide the federal constitutional claim. Id., at 250-251. We would negate the history of the enlargement of the jurisdiction of the federal district courts,
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, with whom MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN joins, dissenting.
The Court today strikes down, as unconstitutional, a Wisconsin statute that has never been challenged or tested in the Wisconsin state courts. The judges of Wisconsin probably will be taken by surprise by our summary action since few, if any, have ever heard of this case.
The reason for my dissent is that it seems to me a very odd business to strike down a state statute, on the books for almost 40 years, without any opportunity for the state courts to dispose of the problem either under the Wisconsin Constitution or the U. S. Constitution. For all we know, the state courts would find this statute invalid under the State Constitution,
Only recently in the 1969 Term we held unanimously that a challenge, under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and under certain provisions of the Alaska Constitution, to the constitutionality of a state statute restricting commercial salmon fishing licenses should not have been decided by the federal district court until the courts of Alaska had acted. There,
See also Fornaris v. Ridge Tool Co., ante, p. 41.
It is no answer to contend that there is no ambiguity in the Wisconsin statute and hence no need to abstain; in Reetz the Alaska statute could not have been more plain, or less susceptible of a limiting construction. Yet, in furtherance of this Court's firm policy to steer around head-on collisions with the States by avoiding unnecessary constitutional decisions, we reversed the District Court and remanded with instructions to stay its hand while the litigants exhausted state court remedies for resolution of their challenge to the statute. See also Fornaris v. Ridge Tool Co., supra. Reetz cannot be distinguished and I see no reason to depart from the principles it reaffirmed.
This Court has an abundance of important work to do, which, if it is to be done well, should not be subject to the added pressures of non-urgent state cases which the state courts have never been called on to resolve. Neither the historic role of this Court nor any reasonable duty placed on us, calls for our direct intervention when no reason for expedited review is shown. Here we have an example of an unwise statute making direct review prima facie available, and an unwillingness by the Court to follow its own precedents by declining to pass on the Wisconsin statute before Wisconsin courts do so. We should remand this case with directions to the three-judge court to refrain from acting until the Wisconsin courts have acted.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK, with whom MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN joins, dissenting.
I agree substantially with the dissent of THE CHIEF JUSTICE. I would vacate the District Court's judgment and remand with directions to withhold its proceedings to enable appellee to file a declaratory judgment or other state court action challenging the police chief's posting of notices in all Hartford retail liquor outlets forbidding sales or gifts of liquors to appellee for one year. As the
I realize that there are many cases where federal courts should not stay their hands to permit state courts to
"(1) When any person shall by excessive drinking of intoxicating liquors, or fermented malt beverages misspend, waste or lessen his estate so as to expose himself or family to want, or the town, city, village or county to which he belongs to liability for the support of himself or family, or so as thereby to injure his health, endanger the loss thereof, or to endanger the personal safety and comfort of his family or any member thereof, or the safety of any other person, or the security of the property of any other person, or when any person shall, on account of the use of intoxicating liquors or fermented malt beverages, become dangerous to the peace of any community, the wife of such person, the supervisors of such town, the mayor, chief of police or aldermen of such city, the trustees of such village, the county superintendent of the poor of such county, the chairman of the county board of supervisors of such county, the district attorney of such county or any of them, may, in writing signed by her, him or them, forbid all persons knowingly to sell or give away to such person any intoxicating liquors or fermented malt beverages, for the space of one year and in like manner may forbid the selling, furnishing, or giving away of any such liquors or fermented malt beverages, knowingly to such person by any person in any town, city or village to which such person may resort for the same. A copy of said writing so signed shall be personally served upon the person so intended to be prohibited from obtaining any such liquor or beverage.
"(2) And the wife of such person, the supervisors of any town, the aldermen of any city, the trustees of any village, the county superintendent of the poor of such county, the mayor of any city, the chairman of the county board of supervisors of such county, the district attorney or sheriff of such county, may, by a notice made and signed as aforesaid, in like manner forbid all persons in such town, city or village, to sell or give away intoxicating liquors or drinks or fermented malt beverages to any person given to the excessive use of such liquors, drinks or beverages, specifying such person, and such notice shall have the same force and effect when such specified person is a nonresident as is herein provided when such specified person is a resident of said town, city or village."
Section 176.28 makes the sale or gift of liquor to such a person a misdemeanor.