North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 60, No. 1 (1981), pp. 59-86


Considerations of comity often require federal courts to defer to state courts when federal issues could be raised in state proceedings. Contexts in which such deference is required include Younger abstention, habeus corpus exhaustion and procedural default, and Pullman and Burford abstention. In this Article, Professor Wells demonstrates that the Supreme Court's opinions fail to make a distinction between cases where comity requires restraint and those where it does not. The Court's motive in invoking comity is not to decrease access to federal courts, but instead to strike a compromise between the individual's interest in a federal forum and the state's interest in a state forum. Professor Wells concludes that the Court uses comity as a vague abstraction to shield its arbitrary assignment of some cases to federal courts and some to state courts because it is unable or unwilling to find that one of these interests is generally the stronger.