Final Judgments of Highest State Courts-Declaratory Judgments

A state declaratory judgment may be reviewed in the United States Supreme Court only if the case retains the essentials of an adversary proceeding involving a real controversy which is finally determined by the judgment of the state court. [i]  The extent to which the declaratory judgment procedure may be used in the federal courts to control state action lies in the sound discretion of the Court.[ii]  The use of the declaratory judgment procedure to test the validity of a state statute for vagueness and uncertainty invites rather than avoids the unnecessary decision of the constitutional question.[iii]

Where there is “an actual and acute controversy,” an appeal from a declaratory judgment of a state court presents a “case or controversy” within the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.  Hence, “the mere failure of a state court to award peremptory relief in a proceeding which it treats as one for a declaratory judgment is not an adequate state ground which precludes review of its federal constitutional holding.”[iv]

It has long been the United States Supreme Court’s practice “not to decide abstract, hypothetical or contingent questions, or to decide any constitutional question in advance of the necessity for its decision, or to formulate a rule of constitutional law broader than is required by the precise facts to which it is to be applied, or to decide any constitutional question except with reference to the particular facts to which it is to be applied.”[v]  A law which is constitutional as applied in one manner may violate the Constitution when applied in another.

The declaratory judgment procedure may be resorted to only in the sound discretion of the Court and where the interests of justice will be advanced and an adequate and effective judgment may be rendered.[vi]

[i] Nashville, C. & S. L. Ry. v. Wallace, 288 U.S. 249 (U.S. 1933)

[ii] Alabama State Federation of Labor v. McAdory, 325 U.S. 450 (U.S. 1945)

[iii] Id. at 470

[iv] Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24, 40 (U.S. 1974)

[v] Id.at450

[vi] Coffman v. Breeze Corps., 323 U.S. 316 (U.S. 1945)


Inside Final Judgments of Highest State Courts-Declaratory Judgments