Cornell Law Review, Vol. 63, No. 1 (November 1977), pp. 65-89


Suppose a federal district court faces a challenge to state action that presents an unsettled issue of state law, a federal constitutional issue, and a plaintiff who will be irreparably harmed if the state is not immediately enjoined. May the court abstain from a decision on the merits, remand the case to the state courts for resolution of the state law issue, and yet grant a preliminary injunction against the challenged state action? Does it follow from the paucity of reported opinions coupling such interim relief with abstention that such a procedure is inconsistent with the policies underlying the abstention doctrine? Should we rely on the state courts to decide the interim relief question? Are there practical considerations that favor other methods for resolving the interests of the plaintiff, the state, and the federal system? This Article examines these questions and suggests that more extensive use of preliminary relief would not unduly interfere with the purposes of abstention, would help accommodate all the interests at stake in an abstention case, and may be the best available means for serving the goals of abstention.