Declaratory Judgment Definition

A court decision in a civil case that tells the parties what their rights and responsibilities are, without awarding damages or ordering them to do anything. Courts are usually reluctant to hear declaratory judgment cases, preferring to wait until there has been a measurable loss. But especially in cases involving important constitutional rights, courts often step in to clarify the legal landscape.

For example, many cities regulate the right to assemble by requiring a permit to hold a parade. A disappointed applicant who thinks the permit process is unconstitutional might have a parade without a permit and challenge the ordinance after being cited for violating the parade permit ordinance. An alternative is to ask a court beforehand to issue a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of the parade permit law. By going to court first, the applicant can avoid a costly confrontation with the city, and perhaps a citation as well.