It is virtually a tenet of modern federal jurisdiction that judges, at least when they are acting as judges, are inappropriate defendants in civil suits. Yet on rare but salient occasions, state judges might be the sole or primary party responsible for violating the constitutional rights of citizens, for instance by imposing excessive bail or by opening their courtrooms to oppressive private suits like those under Texas’s Senate Bill 8 bounty regime. In such cases, injunctive relief against judicial officers may be the only or most effective remedy against constitutional violations, but federal courts from the trial level up to the Supreme Court treat state judges as if they are immune to suits seeking prospective relief.
This practice is at odds with both the text of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the modern history that gave rise to it. Relying on archival investigation, extensive legislative history, and a broad canvass of federal court litigation, this Article seeks to clarify the circumstances in which state judges can be enjoined under Section 1983. In the 1984 case of Pulliam v. Allen, the Supreme Court recognized a cause of action for prospective relief against judges, spurring Congress to eventually amend the text of Section 1983 itself. While numerous courts and commentators continue to suppose that Congress’s amendment overruled Pulliam, we show that the amendment actually codified Pulliam’s core holding. By returning to the plain meaning of Section 1983’s text, we argue that particularly vexing problems like bounty statutes and bail abuses can be directly restrained by prospective relief against state judges in appropriate cases.
Judges | Jurisdiction | Law
Alexandra Nickerson & Kellen R. Funk,
When Judges Were Enjoined: Text and Tradition in the Federal Review of State Judicial Action,
Cal. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/4364