The federal anti-injunction statute provides that a federal court "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."
The prosecuting attorney of Bay County, Florida, brought a proceeding in a Florida court to close down the appellant's bookstore as a public nuisance under the claimed authority of Florida law. The state court entered a preliminary order prohibiting continued operation of the bookstore. After further inconclusive proceedings in the state courts, the appellant filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, alleging that the actions of the state judicial and law enforcement officials were depriving him of rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Relying upon 42 U. S. C. § 1983,
In denying injunctive relief, the District Court relied on this Court's decision in Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281. The Atlantic Coast Line case did not deal with the "expressly authorized" exception of the anti-injunction statute,
It follows, in the present context, that if 42 U. S. C. § 1983 is not within the "expressly authorized" exception of the anti-injunction statute, then a federal equity court is wholly without power to grant any relief in a § 1983 suit seeking to stay a state court proceeding. In short, if a § 1983 action is not an "expressly authorized" statutory exception, the anti-injunction law absolutely prohibits in such an action all federal equitable intervention in a pending state court proceeding, whether civil or criminal, and regardless of how extraordinary the particular circumstances may be.
Last Term, in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, and its companion cases,
In Younger, this Court emphatically reaffirmed "the fundamental policy against federal interference with state criminal prosecutions." 401 U. S., at 46. It made clear that even "the possible unconstitutionality of a statute `on its face' does not in itself justify an injunction against good-faith attempts to enforce it." 401 U. S., at 54. At the same time, however, the Court clearly left room for federal injunctive intervention in a pending state court prosecution in certain exceptional circumstances—where irreparable injury is "both great and immediate," 401 U. S., at 46, where the state law is " `flagrantly and patently violative of express constitutional prohibitions,' " 401 U. S., at 53, or where there is a showing of "bad faith, harassment, or . . . other unusual circumstances that would call for equitable relief." 401 U. S., at 54. In the companion case of Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82, the Court said that "[o]nly in cases of proven harassment or prosecutions undertaken by state officials in bad faith without hope of obtaining a valid conviction and perhaps in other extraordinary circumstances where irreparable injury can be shown is federal injunctive relief against pending
While the Court in Younger and its companion cases expressly disavowed deciding the question now before us—whether § 1983 comes within the "expressly authorized" exception of the anti-injunction statute, 401 U. S., at 54—it is evident that our decisions in those cases cannot be disregarded in deciding this question. In the first place, if § 1983 is not within the statutory exception, then the anti-injunction statute would have absolutely barred the injunction issued in Younger, as the appellant in that case argued, and there would have been no occasion whatever for the Court to decide that case upon the "policy" ground of "Our Federalism." Secondly, if § 1983 is not within the "expressly authorized" exception of the anti-injunction statute, then we must overrule Younger and its companion cases insofar as they recognized the permissibility of injunctive relief against pending criminal prosecutions in certain limited and exceptional circumstances. For, under the doctrine of Atlantic Coast Line, the anti-injunction statute would, in a § 1983 case, then be an "absolute prohibition" against federal equity intervention in a pending state criminal or civil proceeding—under any circumstances whatever.
The Atlantic Coast Line and Younger cases thus serve to delineate both the importance and the finality of the question now before us. And it is in the shadow of those cases that the question must be decided.
The anti-injunction statute goes back almost to the beginnings of our history as a Nation. In 1793, Congress enacted a law providing that no "writ of injunction be granted [by any federal court] to stay proceedings
Despite the seemingly uncompromising language of the anti-injunction statute prior to 1948, the Court soon
In addition to the exceptions to the anti-injunction statute found to be embodied in these various Acts of Congress, the Court recognized other "implied" exceptions to the blanket prohibition of the anti-injunction statute. One was an "in rem" exception, allowing a federal court to enjoin a state court proceeding in order to protect its jurisdiction of a res over which it had first acquired jurisdiction.
In Toucey v. New York Life Ins. Co., 314 U.S. 118, the Court in 1941 issued an opinion casting considerable doubt upon the approach to the anti-injunction statute reflected in its previous decisions. The Court's opinion expressly disavowed the "relitigation" exception to the statute, and emphasized generally the importance of recognizing the statute's basic directive "of `hands off' by the federal courts in the use of the injunction to stay litigation in a state court." 314 U. S., at 132. The congressional response to Toucey was the enactment in 1948 of the anti-injunction statute in its present form in 28 U. S. C. § 2283, which, as the Reviser's Note makes evident, served not only to overrule the specific holding of Toucey,
We proceed, then, upon the understanding that in determining whether § 1983 comes within the "expressly authorized" exception of the anti-injunction statute, the
With these criteria in view, we turn to consideration of 42 U. S. C. § 1983.
Section 1983 was originally § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. 17 Stat. 13. It was "modeled" on § 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat. 27,
As Representative Lowe stated, the "records of the [state] tribunals are searched in vain for evidence of effective redress [of federally secured rights] . . . . What less than this [the Civil Rights Act of 1871] will afford an adequate remedy? The Federal Government cannot serve a writ of mandamus upon State Executives or upon State courts to compel them to protect the rights, privileges and immunities of citizens . . . . The case has arisen . . . when the Federal Government must resort to its own agencies to carry its own authority into execution. Hence this bill throws open the doors of the United States courts to those whose rights under the Constitution are denied or impaired." Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 374-376 (1871). This view was echoed by Senator Osborn: "If the State courts had proven themselves competent to suppress the local disorders,
Those who opposed the Act of 1871 clearly recognized that the proponents were extending federal power in an attempt to remedy the state courts' failure to secure federal rights. The debate was not about whether the predecessor of § 1983 extended to actions of state
This legislative history makes evident that Congress clearly conceived that it was altering the relationship between the States and the Nation with respect to the protection of federally created rights; it was concerned that state instrumentalities could not protect those rights; it realized that state officers might, in fact, be antipathetic to the vindication of those rights; and it believed that these failings extended to the state courts.
Section 1983 was thus a product of a vast transformation from the concepts of federalism that had prevailed in the late 18th century when the anti-injunction statute was enacted. The very purpose of § 1983 was to interpose the federal courts between the States and the people, as guardians of the people's federal rights—to protect the people from unconstitutional action under color of state law, "whether that action be executive, legislative, or judicial." Ex parte Virginia, 100 U. S., at 346. In carrying out that purpose, Congress plainly authorized the federal courts to issue injunctions in § 1983 actions, by expressly authorizing a "suit in equity" as one of the means of redress. And this Court long ago recognized that federal injunctive relief against a state court proceeding can in some circumstances be essential to prevent great, immediate, and irreparable loss of a person's constitutional rights. Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123; cf. Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33; Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479. For these reasons we conclude that, under the
In so concluding, we do not question or qualify in any way the principles of equity, comity, and federalism that must restrain a federal court when asked to enjoin a state court proceeding. These principles, in the context of state criminal prosecutions, were canvassed at length last Term in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, and its companion cases. They are principles that have been emphasized by this Court many times in the past. Fenner v. Boykin, 271 U.S. 240; Spielman Motor Sales Co. v. Dodge, 295 U.S. 89; Beal v. Missouri Pac. R. Co., 312 U.S. 45; Watson v. Buck, 313 U.S. 387; Williams v. Miller, 317 U.S. 599; Douglas v. City of Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157; Stefanelli v. Minard, 342 U.S. 117; Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611. Today we decide only that the District Court in this case was in error in holding that, because of the anti-injunction statute, it was absolutely without power in this § 1983 action to enjoin a proceeding pending in a state court under any circumstances whatsoever.
The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE POWELL and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, with whom MR. JUSTICE WHITE and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN join, concurring.
I concur in the opinion of the Court and add a few words to emphasize what the Court is and is not deciding today as I read the opinion. The Court holds
In Younger, supra, MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS was the only member of the Court who took a position on the question now before us. He expressed the view that § 1983 is included in the "expressly authorized exception to § 2283 . . . ." 401 U. S., at 62. Cf. id., at 54 (STEWART, J., joined by Harlan, J., concurring); Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82, 120 n. 14 (separate opinion of BRENNAN, J., joined by WHITE and MARSHALL, JJ.).
"The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action authorized by law to be commenced by any person:
"(3) To redress the deprivation, under color of any State law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution of the United States or by any Act of Congress providing for equal rights of citizens or of all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States . . . ."
"Charles Warren in his article Federal and State Court Interference, 43 Harv. L. Rev. 345, 347, suggests that this provision was the direct consequence of Randolph's report. This seems doubtful, in view of the very narrow purpose of Randolph's proposal, namely, that federal courts of equity should not interfere with the enforcement of judgments at law rendered in the state courts. See Taylor and Willis, The Power of Federal Courts to Enjoin Proceedings in State Courts, 42 Yale L. J. 1169, 1171, n. 14.
"There is no record of any debates over the statute. See 3 Annals of Congress (1791-93). It has been suggested that the provision reflected the then strong feeling against the unwarranted intrusion of federal courts upon state sovereignty. Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419, was decided on February 18, 1793, less than two weeks before the provision was enacted into law. The significance of this proximity is doubtful. Compare Warren, Federal and State Court Interference, 43 Harv. L. Rev. 345, 347-348, with Gunter v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 200 U.S. 273, 291-292. Much more probable is the suggestion that the provision reflected the prevailing prejudices against equity jurisdiction. The Journal of William Maclay (1927 ed.), chronicling the proceedings of the Senate while he was one of its members (1789-1791), contains abundant evidence of a widespread hostility to chancery practice. See especially, pp. 92-94, 101-06 (debate on the bill that became Judiciary Act of 1789). Moreover, Senator Ellsworth (soon to become Chief Justice of the United States), the principal draftsman of both the 1789 and 1793 Judiciary Acts, often indicated a dislike for equity jurisdiction. See Brown, Life of Oliver Ellsworth (1905 ed.) 194; Journal of William Maclay (1927 ed.) 103-04; Warren, New Light on the History of the Federal Judiciary Act of 1789, 37 Harv. L. Rev. 49, 96-100." Toucey v. New York Life Ins. Co., 314 U.S. 118, 130-132.
See also Note, 38 U. Chi. L. Rev. 612 (1971); 1A J. Moore, Federal Practice 2302 (1965); H. Hart & H. Wechsler, The Federal Courts and the Federal System 1075-1078 (1953); Durfee & Sloss, Federal Injunction Against Proceedings in State Courts: The Life History of a Statute, 30 Mich. L. Rev. 1145 (1932).
Although, as originally drafted in 1871, § 1983's predecessor protected rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution, the provision included by the Congress in the Revised Statutes of 1874 was enlarged to provide protection for rights, privileges, or immunities secured by federal law as well. Rev. Stat. § 1979.
See also id., at App. 85 (Rep. Bingham); 321 (Rep. Stoughton); 333-334 (Rep. Hoar); 389 (Rep. Elliot); 394 (Rep. Rainey); 429 (Rep. Beatty); App. 68-69 (Rep. Shellabarger); App. 78 (Rep. Perry); 345 (Sen. Sherman); 505 (Sen. Pratt); 577 (Sen. Carpenter); 651 (Sen. Summer); 653 (Sen. Osborn); App. 255 (Sen. Wilson). Cf. id., at 697 (Sen. Edmunds).