A three-judge District Court was not required under 28 U.S.C. §
2281 to hear and determine an action challenging the
constitutionality of the unwritten practices of the juvenile
institutions administered by the Texas Youth Council, and a single
District Judge properly exercised jurisdiction. The complaint did
not meet the threshold requirements of § 2281 jurisdiction, since
it "did not mention or challenge any rule or regulation" of the
Youth Council, "nor did it seek an injunction against enforcement
of any identified rule." Baxter v. Palmigiano,
425 U. S. 308
425 U. S. 313
Certiorari granted; 535 F.2d 864, reversed and remanded.
The motion of American Orthopsychiatric Association et
for leave to file a brief as amici curiae
This case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit involves the proper scope of three-judge court jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. § 2281. *
brought suit challenging allegedly unconstitutional punitive and
inhumane conditions in Texas institutions housing juvenile
delinquents, and the failure to provide juveniles with
Page 430 U. S. 323
the rehabilitation or treatment that justified their
confinement. A single District Judge determined that the juveniles'
constitutional rights had been violated, and ordered the parties to
submit a curative plan. The Court of Appeals vacated the District
Court's decision on the ground that a three-judge court should have
been convened in accordance with § 2281. 535 F.2d 864 (1976).
The appellate court reasoned that the challenged, unwritten
practices of the juvenile institutions administered by the Texas
Youth Council were revealed during trial to be statewide in impact,
and that therefore they were equivalent to a statute with statewide
applicability within the meaning of § 2281. Under the Court of
Appeals' analysis, the necessity of convening a three-judge court
was thus not properly apparent until considerable factual
development of the breadth and content of the Texas Youth Council's
administrative practices had taken place.
In construing § 2281, this Court has concluded that the
three-judge court procedure is brought into play in any
"suit which seeks to interpose the Constitution against
enforcement of a state policy, whether such policy is defined in a
state constitution or in an ordinary statute or through the
delegated legislation of an 'administrative board or
Phillips v. United States, 312 U.
, 312 U. S. 251
(1941). We have never, however, considered the generalized,
unwritten practices of administration to be equivalent to the
"delegated legislation" of an administrative board. In fact, that
approach was specifically rejected in Baxter v.
Palmigiano, 425 U. S. 308
(1976), involving a challenge brought in a single-judge court to
the Rhode Island prison system's unwritten rule forbidding counsel
at disciplinary hearings. In rejecting the argument that a
three-judge court was necessary to resolve that challenge, we noted
that the complaint did not meet the threshold requirements of §
2281 jurisdiction; it
"did not mention or challenge any rule or regulation of the
Page 430 U. S. 324
Authority, nor did it seek an injunction against the enforcement
of any identified rule."
425 U.S. at 425 U. S. 313
n. 2. That description applies equally to the complaint in this
The ruling in Baxter
merely reflected the consistent
recognition that the three-judge court procedure is not
"a measure of broad social policy to be construed with great
liberality, but . . . an enactment technical in the strict sense of
the term, and to be applied as such."
Phillips v. United States, supra
at 312 U. S. 251
see also Gonzalez v. Automatic Employees Credit Union,
419 U. S. 90
419 U. S. 98
(1974). The Court of Appeals' ruling improperly deviated from that
understanding, and, in addition, it effectively transformed the
jurisdictional inquiry from a threshold question to one depending
upon the shifting proof during litigation, injecting intolerable
uncertainty and potential delay into important litigation.
Accordingly we hold that the single District Judge properly
exercised jurisdiction to decide this case, and that his judgment
is reviewable on the merits in the Court of Appeals. See
28 U.S.C. § 1291. The petition for a writ of certiorari and the
motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis
the judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
* Public Law 94-381, Aug. 12, 1976, 90 Stat. 1119, prospectively
repealed 28 U.S.C. § 2281. For cases pending at the time of repeal,
§ 2281 still governs jurisdiction, and provides:
"An interlocutory or permanent injunction restraining the
enforcement, operation or execution of any State statute by
restraining the action of any officer of such State in the
enforcement or execution of such statute or of an order made by an
administrative board or commission acting under State statutes,
shall not be granted by any district court or judge thereof upon
the ground of the unconstitutionality of such statute unless the
application therefor is heard and determined by a district court of
three judges under section 2284 of this title."