Developments in the Law: Section 1983 and Federalism

Briffault, Richard

This Note will examine the enforcement of constitutional rights under section 1983 in light of the enhanced contemporary concern with state autonomy and integrity. In doing so, the goal is not only to suggest the ramifications of the concern with state interests on the 1983 action, but also to give some content to the vague contours of "Our Federalism." Part II examines the history of section 1983 against the background of events and evolving theories of federalism that shaped its development. The succeeding parts deal with product of that development. Part III focuses on the standards governing liability under section 1983 and the availability damages and injunctive relief. Parts IV, V, and VI examine judicially created doctrines which may restrict or foreclose 1983 plaintiff's access to a federal forum: the abstention, exhaustion, and Younger doctrines. Even if it were no longer true as it was when the Civil Rights Act of 1871 was passed and choice of a federal forum for 1983 actions guaranteed that state forums are generally less able or willing to enforce constitutional rights than their federal counterparts, forced resort to state remedies under one of these doctrines would burden or deprive the constitutional plaintiff of an opportunity to decide whether a particular state or federal forum is likely to prove more sympathetic to his claim. Finally, Part VII examines the application of res judicata principles to civil rights decisions in both state and federal courts.


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September 21, 2016