Harrison v. NAACP - 360 U.S. 167 (1959)


U.S. Supreme Court

Harrison v. NAACP, 360 U.S. 167 (1959)

Harrison v. National Association for the

Advancement of Colored People

No. 127

Argued March 23-24, 1959

Decided June 8, 1959

360 U.S. 167

Syllabus

Appellees sued in a three-judge Federal District Court for a declaratory judgment that five Virginia statutes enacted in 1956 and never construed by the Virginia courts were unconstitutional, and to enjoin their enforcement. Appellant moved to dismiss the action on the ground that the District Court should not exercise its jurisdiction to enjoin the enforcement of state statutes that have not been authoritatively construed by the state courts. The District Court found two of the statutes vague and ambiguous, and withheld judgment on them, retaining jurisdiction, pending construction by the state courts; but it declared the other three unconstitutional, and enjoined their enforcement against appellees.

Held: As to the three statutes which it held unconstitutional, the District Court should have abstained from deciding the merits of the issues tendered to it, and should have retained jurisdiction until the Virginia courts had been afforded a reasonable opportunity to construe them. Pp. 360 U. S. 168-179.

(a) The federal courts should not adjudicate the constitutionality of state enactments fairly open to interpretation until the state courts have been afforded a reasonable opportunity to pass upon them. Pp. 360 U. S. 176-177.

(b) The three statutes here involved leave reasonable room for a construction by the Virginia courts which might avoid in whole or in part the necessity for federal constitutional adjudication, or at least materially change the nature of the problem. Pp. 360 U. S. 177-178.

(c) These enactments should be exposed to state construction or limiting interpretation before the federal courts are asked to decide upon their constitutionality, so that federal judgment will be based on something that is a complete product of the State, each enactment as phrased by its legislature and as construed by its highest court. P. 360 U. S. 178.

Page 360 U. S. 168

(d) Appellants having represented to this Court that they would never prosecute appellees for conduct engaged in during the pendency of these proceedings, the judgment of the District Court is vacated, and the case remanded to that Court with instructions to afford appellee a reasonable opportunity to bring appropriate proceedings in the Virginia court, meanwhile retaining its own jurisdiction of the case, and for further proceedings consistent with the opinion of this Court. P. 360 U. S. 179.

159 F. Supp. 503, judgment vacated and caue remanded.



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