When a state criminal proceeding under a disputed state criminal statute is pending against a federal plaintiff at the time his federal complaint is filed, Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), and Samuels v. Mackell, 401 U.S. 66 (1971), held, respectively, that, unless bad-faith enforcement or other special circumstances are demonstrated, principles of equity, comity, and federalism preclude issuance of a federal injunction restraining enforcement of the criminal statute and, in all but unusual circumstances, a declaratory judgment upon the constitutionality of the statute. This case presents the important question reserved in Samuels v. Mackell, id., at 73-74, whether declaratory relief is precluded when a state prosecution has been threatened, but is not pending, and a showing of bad-faith enforcement or other special circumstances has not been made.
Petitioner, and others, filed a complaint in the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, invoking the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U. S. C. § 1983, and its jurisdictional implementation, 28 U. S. C. § 1343. The complaint requested a declaratory judgment pursuant to 28 U. S. C. §§ 2201-2202, that Ga. Code Ann. § 26-1503 (1972)
The parties stipulated to the relevant facts: On October 8, 1970, while petitioner and other individuals were distributing handbills protesting American involvement in Vietnam on an exterior sidewalk of the North DeKalb Shopping Center, shopping center employees asked them to stop handbilling and leave.
After hearing, the District Court denied all relief and dismissed the action, finding that "no meaningful contention can be made that the state has [acted] or will in the future act in bad faith," and therefore "the rudiments of an active controversy between the parties . . . [are] lacking." 334 F.Supp. 1386, 1389-1390 (1971). Petitioner appealed
We granted certiorari, 410 U.S. 953 (1973), and now reverse.
At the threshold we must consider whether petitioner presents an "actual controversy," a requirement imposed by Art. III of the Constitution and the express terms of the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U. S. C. § 2201.
Nonetheless, there remains a question as to the continuing existence of a live and acute controversy that must be resolved on the remand we order today.
We now turn to the question of whether the District Court and the Court of Appeals correctly found petitioner's request for declaratory relief inappropriate.
Sensitive to principles of equity, comity, and federalism, we recognized in Younger v. Harris, supra, that federal courts should ordinarily refrain from enjoining ongoing state criminal prosecutions. We were cognizant that a pending state proceeding, in all but unusual cases, would provide the federal plaintiff with the necessary vehicle for vindicating his constitutional rights, and, in that circumstance, the restraining of an ongoing prosecution would entail an unseemly failure to give effect to the principle that state courts have the solemn responsibility,
Neither Younger nor Samuels, however, decided the question whether federal intervention might be permissible in the absence of a pending state prosecution. In Younger, the Court said:
See also id., at 55 (STEWART and Harlan, JJ., concurring); id., at 57 (BRENNAN, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., concurring). Similarly, in Samuels v. Mackell, the Court stated:
See also id., at 55 (STEWART and Harlan, JJ., concurring); id., at 75-76 (BRENNAN, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., concurring).
These reservations anticipated the Court's recognition that the relevant principles of equity, comity, and federalism "have little force in the absence of a pending state proceeding." Lake Carriers' Assn. v. MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 509 (1972). When no state criminal proceeding is pending at the time the federal complaint is filed, federal intervention does not result in duplicative legal proceedings or disruption of the state criminal justice system; nor can federal intervention, in that circumstance, be interpreted as reflecting negatively upon the state court's ability to enforce constitutional principles. In addition, while a pending state prosecution provides the federal plaintiff with a concrete opportunity to vindicate his constitutional rights, a refusal on the part of the federal courts to intervene when no state proceeding is pending may place the hapless plaintiff between the Scylla of intentionally flouting state law and the Charybdis of forgoing what he believes to be constitutionally protected activity in order to avoid becoming enmeshed in a criminal proceeding. Cf. Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 490 (1965).
When no state proceeding is pending and thus considerations of equity, comity, and federalism have little vitality, the propriety of granting federal declaratory relief may properly be considered independently of a request for injunctive relief. Here, the Court of Appeals held that, because injunctive relief would not be appropriate since petitioner failed to demonstrate irreparable injury—a traditional prerequisite to
The subject matter jurisdiction of the lower federal courts was greatly expanded in the wake of the Civil War. A pervasive sense of nationalism led to enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13, empowering the
A "storm of controversy" raged in the wake of Ex parte Young, focusing principally on the power of a single federal judge to grant ex parte interlocutory injunctions against the enforcement of state statutes, H. Hart & H. Wechsler, The Federal Courts and the Federal System 967 (2d ed. 1973); see generally Goldstein v. Cox, 396 U.S. 471 (1970); Hutcheson, A Case for Three Judges, 47 Harv. L. Rev. 795, 804-805 (1934). This uproar was only partially quelled by Congress' passage of legislation, 36 Stat. 557, requiring the convening of a three-judge district court
To dispel these difficulties, Congress in 1934 enacted the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U. S. C. §§ 2201-2202. That Congress plainly intended declaratory relief to act as an alternative to the strong medicine of the injunction and to be utilized to test the constitutionality of state criminal statutes in cases where injunctive relief would be unavailable is amply evidenced by the legislative history of the Act, traced in full detail in Perez v. Ledesma, supra, at 111-115 (separate opinion of BRENNAN, J.). The highlights of that history, particularly pertinent to our inquiry today, emphasize that:
It was this history that formed the backdrop to our decision in Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241 (1967), where a state criminal statute was attacked on grounds of unconstitutional overbreadth and no state prosecution was pending against the federal plaintiff. There, we found error in a three-judge district court's considering, as a single question, the propriety of granting injunctive and declaratory relief. Although we noted that injunctive relief might well be unavailable under principles of equity jurisprudence canvassed in Douglas v. City of Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157 (1943), we held that "a federal district court has the duty to decide the appropriateness and the merits of the declaratory request irrespective of its conclusion as to the propriety of the issuance of the injunction." 389 U. S., at 254. Only one year ago, we
See Doe v. Bolton, supra, at 201.
The "different considerations" entering into a decision whether to grant declaratory relief have their origins in the preceding historical summary. First, as Congress recognized in 1934, a declaratory judgment will have a less intrusive effect on the administration of state criminal laws. As was observed in Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U. S., at 124-126 (separate opinion of BRENNAN, J.):
Second, engrafting upon the Declaratory Judgment Act a requirement that all of the traditional equitable prerequisites to the issuance of an injunction be satisfied before the issuance of a declaratory judgment is considered would defy Congress' intent to make declaratory relief available in cases where an injunction would be inappropriate.
See Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U. S., at 116 (separate opinion of BRENNAN, J.). Thus, the Court of Appeals was in error when it ruled that a failure to demonstrate irreparable injury—a traditional prerequisite to injunctive relief,
The only occasions where this Court has disregarded these "different considerations" and found that a preclusion of injunctive relief inevitably led to a denial of declaratory relief have been cases in which principles of federalism militated altogether against federal intervention in a class of adjudications. See Great Lakes Co. v. Huffman, 319 U.S. 293 (1943) (federal policy against interfering with the enforcement of state tax laws);
Respondents, however, relying principally upon our decision in Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611 (1968), argue that, although it may be appropriate to issue a declaratory judgment when no state criminal proceeding is pending and the attack is upon the facial validity of a state criminal statute, such a step would be improper where, as here, the attack is merely upon the constitutionality of the statute as applied, since the State's interest in unencumbered enforcement of its laws outweighs the minimal federal interest in protecting the constitutional rights of only a single individual. We reject the argument.
In Cameron v. Johnson, the appellants sought a declaratory judgment that a Mississippi anti-picketing law was an overly broad and vague regulation of protected expression and an injunction restraining pending prosecutions against them for violations of the statute. We agreed with the District Court that the statute was not overly broad or vague and that nothing in the record supported appellants' assertion that they were being prosecuted in bad faith. In that circumstance, we held that "[t]he mere possibility of erroneous application of the statute does not amount `to the irreparable injury necessary to justify a disruption of orderly state proceedings.'. . . The issue of guilt or innocence is for the state court at the criminal trial; the State was not required to prove appellants guilty in the federal proceeding to
Indeed, the State's concern with potential interference in the administration of its criminal laws is of lesser dimension when an attack is made upon the constitutionality of a state statute as applied. A declaratory judgment of a lower federal court that a state statute is invalid in toto—and therefore incapable of any valid application—or is overbroad or vague—and therefore no person can properly be convicted under the statute until it is given a narrowing or clarifying construction, see, e. g., United States v. Thirty-seven Photographs, 402 U.S. 363, 369 (1971); Gooding v. Wilson, 405 U.S. 518, 520 (1972)—will likely have a more significant potential for disruption of state enforcement policies than a declaration specifying a limited number of impermissible applications of the statute. While the federal interest may be greater when a state statute is attacked on its face, since there exists the potential for eliminating any broad-ranging deterrent effect on would-be actors, see Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479 (1965), we do not find this consideration controlling. The solitary individual who suffers a deprivation of his constitutional rights is no less deserving of redress than one who suffers together with others.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, concurring.
While joining the opinion of the Court, I add a word by way of emphasis.
As the Court stated in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 52:
See also Boyle v. Landry, 401 U.S. 77, 80-81.
The petitioner in this case has succeeded in objectively showing that the threat of imminent arrest, corroborated by the actual arrest of his companion, has created an actual concrete controversy between himself and the agents of the State. He has, therefore, demonstrated "a genuine threat of enforcement of a disputed state criminal statute . . . ."
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, concurring.
I offer the following few words in light of MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST'S concurrence in which he discusses the impact on a pending federal action of a later filed criminal prosecution against the federal plaintiff, whether a federal court may enjoin a state criminal prosecution under a statute the federal court has earlier declared unconstitutional
It should be noted, first, that his views on these issues are neither expressly nor impliedly embraced by the Court's opinion filed today. Second, my own tentative views on these questions are somewhat contrary to my Brother's.
At this writing at least, I would anticipate that a final declaratory judgment entered by a federal court holding particular conduct of the federal plaintiff to be immune on federal constitutional grounds from prosecution under state law should be accorded res judicata effect in any later prosecution of that very conduct. There would also, I think, be additional circumstances in which the federal judgment should be considered as more than a mere precedent bearing on the issue before the state court.
Neither can I at this stage agree that the federal court, having rendered a declaratory judgment in favor of the plaintiff, could not enjoin a later state prosecution for conduct that the federal court has declared immune. The Declaratory Judgment Act itself provides that a "declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree," 28 U. S. C. § 2201; eminent authority anticipated that declaratory judgments would be res judicata, E. Borchard, Declaratory Judgments 10-11 (2d ed. 1941); and there is every reason for not reducing declaratory judgments to mere advisory opinions. Toucey v. New York Life Insurance Co., 314 U.S. 118 (1941), once expressed the view that 28 U. S. C. § 2283 forbade injunctions against relitigation in state courts of federally decided issues, but the section was then amended to overrule that case, the consequence being that "[i]t is clear that the Toucey rule
Finally, I would think that a federal suit challenging a state criminal statute on federal constitutional grounds could be sufficiently far along so that ordinary consideration of economy would warrant refusal to dismiss the federal case solely because a state prosecution has subsequently been filed and the federal question may be litigated there.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, concurring.
I concur in the opinion of the Court. Although my reading of the legislative history of the Declaratory Judgment Act of 1934 suggests that its primary purpose was to enable persons to obtain a definition of their rights before an actual injury had occurred, rather than to palliate any controversy arising from Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). Congress apparently was aware at the time it passed the Act that persons threatened with state criminal prosecutions might choose to forgo the offending conduct and instead seek a federal declaration of their rights. Use of the declaratory judgment procedure in the circumstances presented by this case seems consistent with that congressional expectation.
If this case were the Court's first opportunity to deal with this area of law, I would be content to let the
To begin with, it seems appropriate to restate the obvious: the Court's decision today deals only with declaratory relief and with threatened prosecutions. The case provides no authority for the granting of any injunctive relief nor does it provide authority for the granting of any relief at all when prosecutions are pending. The Court quite properly leaves for another day whether the granting of a declaratory judgment by a federal court will have any subsequent res judicata effect or will perhaps support the issuance of a later federal injunction. But since possible resolutions of those issues would substantially undercut the principles of federalism reaffirmed in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), and preserved by the decision today, I feel it appropriate to add a few remarks.
First, the legislative history of the Declaratory Judgment Act and the Court's opinion in this case both
Second, I do not believe that today's decision can properly be raised to support the issuance of a federal injunction based upon a favorable declaratory judgment.
If the rationale of cases such as Younger and Samuels turned in any way upon the relative case with which a federal district court could reach a conclusion about the constitutionality of a challenged state statute, a pre-existing judgment declaring the statute unconstitutional as applied to a particular plaintiff would, of course, be a factor favoring the issuance of an injunction as "further relief" under the Declaratory Judgment Act. But, except for statutes that are " `flagrantly and patently violative of express constitutional prohibitions in every clause, sentence and paragraph . . . ,' " Younger v. Harris, supra, at 53, the rationale of those cases has no such basis. Their direction that federal courts not interfere with state prosecutions does not vary depending on the closeness of the constitutional issue or on the degree of confidence which the federal court possesses in the correctness of its conclusions on the constitutional
A declaratory judgment is simply a statement of rights, not a binding order supplemented by continuing sanctions. State authorities may choose to be guided by the judgment of a lower federal court, but they are not compelled to follow the decision by threat of contempt or other penalties. If the federal plaintiff pursues the conduct for which he was previously threatened with arrest and is in fact arrested, he may not return the controversy to federal court, although he may, of course, raise the federal declaratory judgment in the state court for whatever value it may prove to have.
Third, attempts to circumvent Younger by claiming that enforcement of a statute declared unconstitutional by a federal court is per se evidence of bad faith should not find support in the Court's decision in this case. As the Court notes, quoting my Brother BRENNAN'S separate opinion in Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82, 125:
This language clearly recognizes that continued belief in the constitutionality of the statute by state prosecutorial officials would not commonly be indicative of bad faith and that such allegations, in the absence of highly unusual circumstances, would not justify a federal
If the declaratory judgment remains, as I think the Declaratory Judgment Act intended, a simple declaration of rights without more, it will not be used merely as a dramatic tactical maneuver on the part of any state defendant seeking extended delays. Nor will it force state officials to try cases time after time, first in the federal courts and then in the state courts. I do not believe Congress desired such unnecessary results, and I do not think that today's decision should be read to sanction them. Rather the Act, and the decision, stand for the sensible proposition that both a potential state defendant, threatened with prosecution but not charged, and the State itself, confronted by a possible violation of its criminal laws, may benefit from a procedure which provides for a declaration of rights without activation of the criminal process. If the federal court finds that the threatened prosecution would depend upon a statute it judges unconstitutional, the State may decide to forgo prosecution of similar conduct in the future, believing the judgment persuasive. Should the state prosecutors not find the decision persuasive enough to justify forbearance, the successful federal plaintiff will at least be able to bolster his allegations of unconstitutionality in the state trial with a decision of the federal district court in the immediate locality. The state courts may find the reasoning convincing even though the prosecutors did not. Finally, of course, the state legislature may decide, on the basis of the federal decision, that the statute would be better amended or repealed. All these possible avenues of relief would be reached voluntarily by the States and would be completely consistent with the concepts of federalism discussed above. Other more intrusive forms of relief should not be routinely available.
"(a) A person commits criminal trespass when he intentionally damages any property of another without his consent and the damage thereto is $100 or less, or knowingly and maliciously interferes with the possession or use of the property of another person without his consent.
"(b) A person commits criminal trespass when he knowingly and without authority:
"(1) Enters upon the land or premises of another person, or into any part of any vehicle, railroad car, aircraft, or watercraft of another person, for an unlawful purpose; or
"(2) Enters upon the land or premises of another person, or into any part of any vehicle, railroad car, aircraft, or watercraft of another person, after receiving, prior to such entry, notice from the owner or rightful occupant that such entry is forbidden; or
"(3) Remains upon the land or premises of another person, or within the vehicle, railroad car, aircraft, or watercraft of another person, after receiving notice from the owner or rightful occupant to depart.
"(c) A person convicted of criminal trespass shall be punished as for a misdemeanor."
"In a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction, except with respect to Federal taxes, any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought. Any such declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree and shall be reviewable as such."
Section 2202 further provides:
"Further necessary or proper relief based on a declaratory judgment or decree may be granted, after reasonable notice and hearing, against any adverse party whose rights have been determined by such judgment."
"It often happens that courts are unwilling to grant injunctions to restrain the enforcement of penal statutes or ordinances, and relegate the plaintiff to his option, either to violate the statute and take his chances in testing constitutionality on a criminal prosecution, or else to [forgo], in the fear of prosecution, the exercise of his claimed rights. Into this dilemma no civilized legal system operating under a constitution should force any person. The court, in effect, by refusing an injunction informs the prospective victim that the only way to determine whether the suspect is a mushroom or a toadstool, is to eat it. Assuming that the plaintiff has a vital interest in the enforcement of the challenged statute or ordinance, there is no reason why a declaratory judgment should not be issued, instead of compelling a violation of the statute as a condition precedent to challenging its constitutionality." Hearings on H. R. 5623 before a Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 70th Cong., 1st Sess., 75-76 (1928). See E. Borchard, Declaratory Judgments x-xi (2d ed. 1941).
"The procedure has been especially useful in avoiding the necessity, now so often present, of having to act at one's peril or to act on one's own interpretation of his rights, or abandon one's rights because of a fear of incurring damages. So now it is often necessary, in the absence of the declaratory judgment procedure, to violate or purport to violate a statute in order to obtain a judicial determination of its meaning or validity. . . . Persons now often have to act at their peril, a danger which could be frequently avoided by the ability to sue for a declaratory judgment as to their rights or duties." S. Rep. No. 1005, 73d Cong., 2d Sess., 2-3 (1934).
Petitioner in this case, of course, did cease his handbilling activities after the warning of arrest.
"Sensitive to principles of equity, comity, and federalism, we recognized in Younger v. Harris, [401 U.S. 37 (1971),] that federal courts should ordinarily refrain from enjoining ongoing state criminal prosecutions. We were cognizant that a pending state proceeding, in all but unusual cases, would provide the federal plaintiff with the necessary vehicle for vindicating his constitutional rights, and, in that circumstance, the restraining of an ongoing prosecution would entail an unseemly failure to give effect to the principle that state courts have the solemn responsibility, equally with the federal courts to guard, enforce, and protect every right granted or secured by the Constitution of the United States. . . .' Robb v. Connolly, 111 U.S. 624, 637 (1884)." Ante, at 460-461.