“Abstention” in the American legal culture occurs when a federal court abstains from exercising jurisdiction in either of two circumstances. First, a federal court may abstain from deciding a case otherwise properly before it when a constitutional issue may be affected by an unsettled interpretation of state law. This application of abstention is really a deferral of federal jurisdiction based upon the premise that the federal courts should not prematurely resolve the constitutionality of a state statute. The second application, following the deferral approach to abstention, relates to when a federal court should defer exercising its jurisdiction where a state court has previously initiated a judicial proceeding. In such a case, the state proceeding should be allowed to conclude as both a matter of “our federalism” and comity. Hence, both of the preceding concepts of the doctrine of abstention seek to both promote comity between the federal and state systems in the United States and respect the spheres of judicial influences of both the federal and state judicial systems.
Charles D. Cole
Last updated: 2006