CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari to determine whether a federal court should abstain from considering a challenge to the constitutionality of disciplinary rules that are the subject of pending state disciplinary proceedings within the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Supreme Court. 454 U.S. 962 (1981). The Court of Appeals held that it need not abstain under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). We reverse.
The Constitution of New Jersey charges the State Supreme Court with the responsibility for licensing and disciplining attorneys admitted to practice in the State. Art. 6, § 2, ¶ 3.
Unless good cause appears for referring the complaint to another Committee member, each complaint is referred to the member of the Committee who conducted the initial investigation for review and further investigation, if necessary. The Committee member submits a written report stating whether a prima facie indication of unethical or unprofessional conduct has been demonstrated. The report is then evaluated by the chairman of the Ethics Committee to determine whether a prima facie case exists. Absent a prima facie showing, the complaint is summarily dismissed. If a prima facie case is found, a formal hearing on the complaint is held before three or more members of the Ethics Committee,
The Disciplinary Review Board, a statewide board which is also appointed by the Supreme Court, consists of nine members, at least five of whom must be attorneys and at least three of whom must be nonattorneys. The Board makes a de novo review. Rule 1:20-3(d)(3).
All decisions of the Disciplinary Review Board beyond a private reprimand are reviewed by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Briefing and oral argument are available in the Supreme Court for cases involving disbarment or suspension for more than one year. Rule 1:20-4.
Respondent Lennox Hinds, a member of the New Jersey Bar, served as executive director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers at the time of his challenged conduct. Hinds represented Joanne Chesimard in a civil proceeding challenging her conditions of confinement in jail. In 1977
One member of the Middlesex County Ethics Committee read news accounts of Hinds' comments and brought the matter to the attention of the Committee. In February 1977 the Committee directed one of its members to conduct an investigation. A letter was written to Hinds, who released the contents of the letter to the press. The Ethics Committee on its own motion then suspended the investigation until the conclusion of the Chesimard criminal trial.
After the trial was completed the Committee investigated the complaint and concluded that there was probable cause to believe that Hinds had violated DR 1-102(A)(5) of the Disciplinary Rules of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed on the ground that the state bar disciplinary proceedings did not provide a meaningful opportunity to adjudicate constitutional claims. 643 F.2d 119 (1981). The court reasoned that the disciplinary proceedings in this case are unlike the state judicial proceedings to which the federal courts usually defer. The Court of Appeals majority viewed the proceedings in this case as administrative, "nonadjudicative" proceedings analogous to the preindictment stage of a criminal proceeding.
Pending review in this Court, the New Jersey Supreme Court has heard oral arguments on the constitutional challenges presented by respondent Hinds and has adopted a rule allowing for an aggrieved party in a disciplinary hearing to
Younger v. Harris, supra, and its progeny espouse a strong federal policy against federal-court interference with pending state judicial proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances. The policies underlying Younger abstention have been frequently reiterated by this Court. The notion of "comity" includes "a proper respect for state functions, a recognition of the fact that the entire country is made up of a Union of separate state governments, and a continuance of the belief that the National Government will fare best if the States and their institutions are left free to perform their separate functions in their separate ways." Id., at 44.
The question in this case is threefold: first, do state bar disciplinary hearings within the constitutionally prescribed jurisdiction of the State Supreme Court constitute an ongoing state judicial proceeding; second, do the proceedings implicate important state interests; and third, is there an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges.
The State of New Jersey, in common with most States,
The State of New Jersey has an extremely important interest in maintaining and assuring the professional conduct of the attorneys it licenses. States traditionally have exercised extensive control over the professional conduct of attorneys. See n. 11, supra. The ultimate objective of such control is "the protection of the public, the purification of the bar and the prevention of a re-occurrence." In re Baron, 25 N.J. 445, 449, 136 A.2d 873, 875 (1957). The judiciary as well as the public is dependent upon professionally ethical conduct of attorneys and thus has a significant interest in assuring and maintaining high standards of conduct of attorneys engaged in practice. See In re Stein, 1 N.J. 228, 237, 62 A.2d 801, 805 (1949), quoting In re Cahill, 66 N. J. L. 527, 50 A. 119 (1901). The State's interest in the professional conduct of attorneys involved in the administration of criminal justice is of special importance. Finally, the State's interest in the present litigation is demonstrated by the fact that the Middlesex County Ethics Committee, an agency of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, is the named defendant in the present
The importance of the state interest in the pending state judicial proceedings and in the federal case calls Younger abstention into play. So long as the constitutional claims of respondents can be determined in the state proceedings and so long as there is no showing of bad faith, harassment, or some other extraordinary circumstance that would make abstention inappropriate, the federal courts should abstain.
Respondent Hinds contends that there was no opportunity in the state disciplinary proceedings to raise his federal constitutional challenge to the disciplinary rules. Yet Hinds failed to respond to the complaint filed by the local Ethics Committee and failed even to attempt to raise any federal constitutional challenge in the state proceedings. Under New Jersey's procedure, its Ethics Committees constantly are called upon to interpret the state disciplinary rules. Respondent Hinds points to nothing existing at the time the complaint was brought by the local Committee to indicate that the members of the Ethics Committee, the majority of whom are lawyers, would have refused to consider a claim that the rules which they were enforcing violated federal constitutional guarantees. Abstention is based upon the theory that " `[t]he accused should first set up and rely upon his defense in the state courts, even though this involves a challenge of the validity of some statute, unless it plainly appears that this course would not afford adequate protection.' " Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S., at 45, quoting Fenner v. Boykin, 271 U.S. 240, 244 (1926).
In light of the unique relationship between the New Jersey Supreme Court and the local Ethics Committee, and in view of the nature of the proceedings, it is difficult to conclude that there was no "adequate opportunity" for respondent Hinds
Whatever doubt, if any, that may have existed about respondent Hinds' ability to have constitutional challenges heard in the bar disciplinary hearings was laid to rest by the subsequent actions of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Prior to the filing of the petition for certiorari in this Court the New Jersey Supreme Court sua sponte entertained the constitutional issues raised by respondent Hinds. Respondent Hinds therefore has had abundant opportunity to present his constitutional challenges in the state disciplinary proceedings.
There is no reason for the federal courts to ignore this subsequent development. In Hicks v. Miranda, 422 U.S. 332 (1975), we held that "where state criminal proceedings are begun against the federal plaintiffs after the federal complaint is filed but before any proceedings of substance on the merits have taken place in federal court, the principles of Younger v. Harris should apply in full force." Id., at 349. An analogous situation is presented here; the principles of comity and federalism which call for abstention remain in full
Respondents have not challenged the findings of the District Court that there was no bad faith or harassment on the part of petitioner and that the state rules were not " `flagrantly and patently' " unconstitutional. Younger, supra, at 53, quoting Watson v. Buck, 313 U.S. 387, 402 (1941). See App. to Pet. for Cert. 50a-52a. We see no reason to disturb these findings, and no other extraordinary circumstances have been presented to indicate that abstention would not be appropriate.
Because respondent Hinds had an "opportunity to raise and have timely decided by a competent state tribunal the federal issues involved," Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U. S., at 577, and because no bad faith, harassment, or other exceptional circumstances dictate to the contrary, federal courts should abstain from interfering with the ongoing proceedings. Accordingly, the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Reversed and remanded.
For the reasons stated by JUSTICE MARSHALL, I join the judgment in this case. I agree that federal courts should show particular restraint before intruding into an ongoing disciplinary proceeding by a state court against a member of the State's bar, where there is an adequate opportunity to raise federal issues in that proceeding. The traditional and primary responsibility of state courts for establishing and enforcing standards for members of their bars and the quasi-criminal nature of bar disciplinary proceedings, In re Ruffalo, 390 U.S. 544, 551 (1968), call for exceptional deference by the federal courts. See Gipson v. New Jersey Supreme Court, 558 F.2d 701, 703-704 (CA3 1977); Erdmann v. Stevens, 458 F.2d 1205, 1209-1210 (CA2 1972). I continue to adhere to my view, however, that Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), is in general inapplicable to civil proceedings. See Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 613 (1975) (BRENNAN, J., dissenting).
JUSTICE MARSHALL, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS join, concurring in the judgment.
I agree with much of the general language in the Court's opinion discussing the importance of the State's interest in regulating the professional conduct of its attorneys. However, I believe that the question whether Younger abstention would have been appropriate at the time that the District Court or the Court of Appeals considered this issue is not as simple as the Court's opinion might be read to imply. As the Court acknowledges, absent an ongoing judicial proceeding in which there is an adequate opportunity for a party to raise federal constitutional challenges, Younger is inapplicable. Ante, at 432. See also Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564, 577 (1973). Here, it is unclear whether, at the time the lower courts addressed this issue, there was an adequate opportunity in the state disciplinary proceedings to raise a constitutional
I agree with the Court that we may consider events subsequent to the decisions of the courts below because the federal litigation has addressed only the question whether abstention is appropriate. Thus far, there have been no proceedings on the merits in federal court. Ante, at 436-437. After the Court of Appeals rendered its decision and denied petitioner's petition for rehearing, the New Jersey Supreme Court certified the complaint against respondent Hinds to itself. App. to Pet. for Cert. 62a. Now, there are ongoing judicial proceedings in the New Jersey Supreme Court in which Hinds has been given the opportunity to raise his constitutional challenges. As a result, Younger abstention, at least with respect to Hinds, is appropriate at this time. For this reason only, I join the judgment of the Court.
"The Supreme Court shall make rules governing the administration of all courts in the State and, subject to the law, the practice and procedure in all such courts. The Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction over the admission to the practice of law and the discipline of persons admitted."
"All constitutional questions shall be withheld for consideration by the Supreme Court as part of its review of the final decision of the Disciplinary Review Board. Interlocutory relief may be sought only in accordance with R. 1:20-4(d)(i)."
"Constitutional challenges to the proceedings not raised before the District Committee shall be preserved, without Board action, for Supreme Court consideration as part of its review of the matter on the merits. Interlocutory relief may be sought only in accordance with Rule 1:20-4(d)(i)."
"(D) During the selection of a jury or the trial of a criminal matter, a lawyer or law firm associated with the prosecution or defense of a criminal matter shall not make or participate in making an extra-judicial statement that he expects to be disseminated by means of public communication and that relates to the trial, parties, or issues in the trial or other matters that are reasonably likely to interfere with a fair trial . . . ."
Judge Adams, concurring, emphasized that state courts have the primary responsibility to discipline their bar and, in general, the federal judiciary is to exercise no supervisory powers. Judge Weis, dissenting, argued that respondents have full opportunity in the New Jersey proceedings to raise constitutional issues, concluding that the disciplinary proceedings are not a series of separate segments before independent bodies but are part of a whole. Judge Weis also concluded that there was nothing to prevent the Ethics Committee from considering constitutional claims.
"(i) Interlocutory Review. An aggrieved party may file a motion for leave to appeal with the Supreme Court to seek interlocutory review of a constitutional challenge to proceedings pending before the District Ethics Committee or the Disciplinary Review Board. The motion papers shall conform to R. 2:8-1. Leave to appeal may be granted only when necessary to prevent irreparable injury. If leave to appeal is granted, the record below may, in the discretion of the Court, be supplemented by the filing of briefs and oral argument.
"(ii) Final Review. In any case in which a constitutional challenge to the proceedings has been properly raised below and preserved pending review of the merits of the disciplinary matter by the Supreme Court, the aggrieved party may, within 10 days of the filing of the report and recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board, seek the review of the Court by proceeding in accordance with the applicable provisions of R. 1:19-8."
The New Jersey allocation of responsibility is consistent with § 2.1 of the ABA Standards for Lawyer Discipline and Disability Proceedings (Proposed Draft 1978), which states that the "[u]ltimate and exclusive responsibility within a state for the structure and administration of the lawyer discipline and disability system and the disposition of individual cases is within the inherent power of the highest court of the state."
The rationale for vesting responsibility with the judiciary is that the practice of law "is so directly connected and bound up with the exercise of judicial power and the administration of justice that the right to define and regulate it naturally and logically belongs to the judicial department." Id., commentary to § 2.1.
The instant case arose before the 1978 rule change. In 1978 the New Jersey Supreme Court established a Disciplinary Review Board charged with review of findings of District Ethics Committees. Nothing in this rule change, however, altered the nature of such proceedings. The responsibility under Art. 6, § 2, ¶ 3, remains with the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The New Jersey Supreme Court reviews all disciplinary actions except the issuance of private letters of reprimand. Rule 1:20-4. Rule 1:20-2(j), however, requires that all constitutional issues be withheld for consideration by the Supreme Court as part of its review of the decision of the Disciplinary Review Board. This appears to provide for Supreme Court review of constitutional challenges even when a private reprimand is made.