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Younger abstention is grounded partly on traditional principles of equity, but primarily on the even more vital consideration of comity, which includes a proper respect for state functions, a recognition of the fact that the entire country is made up of a Union of separate state governments, and a continuance of the belief that the National Government will fare best if the States and their institutions are left free to perform their separate functions in their separate ways. And when a federal court is asked to interfere with a pending state prosecution, those established doctrines of equity and comity are reinforced by the demands of federalism, which require that federal rights be protected in a manner that does not unduly interfere with the legitimate functioning of the judicial systems of the States.
The District Attorney of New York County has issued a grand jury subpoena to an accounting firm that possesses a variety of such records because it performed accounting services for President Donald J. Trump and his organization. When the President sought injunctive relief in federal court to restrain enforcement of that subpoena, the district court declined to exercise jurisdiction and dismissed the case under the doctrine of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S. Ct. 746, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669 (1971). The district court also explained in an alternative holding why, in its view, there was no constitutional basis to temporarily restrain or preliminarily enjoin the subpoena at issue.
Was the Younger abstention warranted?
The court held that the Younger abstention was not warranted because Younger's policy of comity could not be vindicated in light of the instant state-federal clash and because the President raised novel and serious claims that were more appropriately adjudicated in federal court. The President was not entitled to a preliminary injunction because he was unlikely to succeed on the merits of his absolute presidential immunity claim since presidential immunity did not bar the enforcement of a state grand jury subpoena directing a third party to produce non-privileged material, even when the subject matter under investigation pertained to the U.S. President.