Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



In an era of continually expanding federal judicial power, the Supreme Court has fashioned and employed several devices designed to delegate certain classes of federal question litigation to the state court systems. Among these devices are the doctrines of abstention, comity, and exhaustion of state remedies. Implementation of these doctrines has enabled the Supreme Court to maintain state judicial presence in federal question litigation and retain at least the appearance of a manageable federalized judicial structure. This article will attempt to analyze the function of the abstention doctrines as judicially-created tempering devices. Following a brief discussion of the factors that led to the evolution of an abstention doctrine, the four main abstention theories, as currently applied, will be identified, and their underlying purposes and functions will be assessed. Lastly, these doctrines will be reevaluated with a view toward formulating a framework for applying abstention that will better serve the ends the doctrine was designed to achieve.