Shucks. I sure hope that the reporting in the press about the State of Arizona seeking a “declaratory judgment” about the constitutionality of Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act is off the mark. Otherwise, I’m concerned about the waste of taxpayer monies invested in a non-starter piece of litigation. This has already been tried in federal court, to no avail. Here’s the story: Once upon a time in the mid 1950s, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 involved the status of aliens residing within the United States. The International Longshoremen’s Local 37 labor union and a number of its members sued to enjoin Boyd, District Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), from construing the Act as to treat all aliens domiciled within the continental United States returning from temporary work in Alaska as if they were aliens entering the country for the first time. The plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the Act was unconstitutional. Plaintiffs did not show that any sanctions had been sought against any union members or that any of the proposed hypothetical situations had yet arisen.
The District Court dismissed the lawsuit on the merits and the Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari to answer this question: May a party seek a declaratory judgment regarding the scope or constitutionality of a statute before a concrete case has arisen to which the statute may apply? In Longshoremen’s Union v. Boyd, 347 U.S. 222, 74 S. Ct. 447, 98 L. Ed. 650 (1954), the Supreme Court answered the question like this: Uh, no. A party may not seek a declaratory judgment regarding a statute if no sanctions have been sought under the statute and no occasion for doing so has arisen.
The Longshoremen’s Union in effect asked the District Court to rule that a statute would not be applied to them under certain circumstances in the future, when no federal sanctions had been sought against union members and there was no occasion for doing so in play. Such is not a lawsuit to enforce a right; it is an effort to obtain assurance from a court, in advance of any activity, that a statute will or will not apply under certain hypothetical situations. Determination of the scope and constitutionality of a law before a concrete case exists involves an inquiry that is too remote and abstract for a court to resolve. The complaint supposedly being prepared by the Attorney General’s office, that reportedly will seek “declaratory relief” regarding Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act as this is posted does not present a case or controversy and, therefore, will be dismissed by the federal district court unless there are other justiciable claims.