abstention, abstention doctrine, federal courts, burford abstention, burford, judicial capacity, federalism, administrative responsibility


The U.S. Supreme Court has given federal courts the authority to abstain from hearing certain cases and defer to state courts in some cases where constitutional or federal statutory rights have been violated. This piece attempts to clarify the abstention requirements and provide a clear rationale for the doctrine. Part I of this piece discusses the origin and development of the abstention doctrine, focusing specifically on the Burford abstention, a kind of abstention particularly salient to institutional reform cases. Part I also illustrates the inconsistencies inherent in the application of the abstention doctrine in its current form. Parts II and II propose that federal courts, in considering whether to grant Burford abstention, should analyze three requirements: judicial capacity, federalism, and administrative responsibility. This piece concludes that all three requirements play a significant role in achieving a reasonable division of labor between federal and state courts and can assist policymakers in initiating institutional reforms in agencies implicated in rights violations.



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