Poe v. Ullman

367 U.S. 497, 81 S. Ct. 1752 (1961)

 

RULE:

Federal judicial power is to be exercised to strike down legislation, whether state or federal, only at the instance of one who is himself immediately harmed, or immediately threatened with harm, by the challenged action. Courts can have no right to pronounce an abstract opinion upon the constitutionality of a state law. Such law must be brought into actual, or threatened operation upon rights properly falling under judicial cognizance, or a remedy is not to be had. The party who invokes the power to annul legislation on grounds of its unconstitutionality must be able to show not only that the statute is invalid but that he has sustained or is immediately in danger of sustaining some direct injury as the result of its enforcement.

FACTS:

The patients and doctor challenged the constitutionality under U.S. Const. amend. XIV, a state statute prohibiting the use of contraceptive devices and the giving of medical advice in the use of such devices, Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 53-32, 54-196 (1958). The state supreme court held that the statutes were applicable to married couples even under a claim that conception would constitute a serious threat to the health or life of the female spouse.  The Supreme Court held that the mere existence of a state penal statute constituted insufficient grounds to support a federal court's adjudication of its constitutionality in proceedings brought against the state's prosecuting officials if real threat of enforcement was wanting. The Court dismissed the action.

ISSUE:

Did the Connecticut Law violated the plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

Insofar as appellants seek to justify the exercise of the court's declaratory power by the threat of prosecution, facts which they can no more negative by complaint and demurrer than they could by stipulation preclude a determination on the merits. It is clear that the mere existence of a state penal statute would constitute insufficient grounds to support a federal court's adjudication of its constitutionality in proceedings brought against the State's prosecuting officials if real threat of enforcement is wanting. If the prosecutor expressly agrees not to prosecute, a suit against him for declaratory and injunctive relief is not such an adversary case as will be reviewed  Eighty years of Connecticut history demonstrate a similar, albeit tacit agreement. The fact that Connecticut has not chosen to press the enforcement of this statute deprives these controversies of the immediacy which is an indispensable condition of constitutional adjudication. The Court cannot be umpire to debates concerning harmless, empty shadows. 

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