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Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Company

The Abstention Doctrine Since Pullman

Justice Frankfurter remained a strong proponent of the abstention doctrine, believing the federal courts should only decide constitutional issues when there was no other way to resolve them. The doctrine was eventually used in a variety of cases, and in 1959 it was extended to civil rights cases (Harrison v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

The doctrine seemed to lose prominence after Frankfurter's retirement in 1962. Some justices expressed displeasure with the doctrine's effects on the litigants. By abstaining, the federal courts forced the parties to begin the legal process again in the state courts, which often took years and created hefty legal expenses.

By the 1970s, the Court tended to find that using the abstention doctrine was the exception, not the rule, even when the grounds for exercising it were present. Judges have leeway to hear a case that might qualify for abstention, if a statute violates basic freedoms.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Company - Significance, Race, Economics, And State Law, The Abstention Doctrine Since Pullman