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The Eleventh Amendment (Amendment XI) is an amendment to the United States Constitution which was passed by Congress on March 4, 1794, and ratified by the states on February 7, 1795. The Eleventh Amendment restricts the ability of individuals to bring suit against states of which they are not citizens in federal court.
The Eleventh Amendment was adopted to overrule the Supreme Court's decision in Chisholm v. Georgia (1793). In that case, the Court held that states did not enjoy sovereign immunity from suits made by citizens of other states in federal court. While the Eleventh Amendment established that federal courts do not have the authority to hear cases brought by private parties against a state of which they are not citizens, the Supreme Court has ruled the amendment to apply to all federal suits against states brought by private parties. The Supreme Court has also held that Congress can abrogate state sovereign immunity when using its authority under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Other recent cases (Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety, Central Virginia Community College v. Katz, PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey) have identified further exceptions to the general sovereign immunity of States when Congress acts pursuant to its Article I powers, which have alternatively been referred to as "waivers in the plan of the Convention." The Supreme Court has also held that federal courts can enjoin state officials from violating federal law.
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.
The Eleventh Amendment was the first Constitutional amendment adopted after the Bill of Rights. The amendment was adopted following the Supreme Court's ruling in Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793). In Chisholm, the Court ruled that federal courts had the authority to hear cases in law and equity brought by private citizens against states and that states did not enjoy sovereign immunity from suits made by citizens of other states in federal court. Thus, the amendment clarified Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, which gives diversity jurisdiction to the judiciary to hear cases "between a state and citizens of another state."
Proposal and ratification
The Eleventh Amendment was proposed by the 3rd Congress on March 4, 1794, when it was approved by the House of Representatives by vote of 81–9, having been previously passed by the Senate, 23–2, on January 14, 1794. The amendment was ratified by the state legislatures of the following states:
- New York: March 27, 1794
- Rhode Island: March 31, 1794
- Connecticut: May 8, 1794
- New Hampshire: June 16, 1794
- Massachusetts: June 26, 1794
- Vermont: November 9, 1794
- Virginia: November 18, 1794
- Georgia: November 29, 1794
- Kentucky: December 7, 1794
- Maryland: December 26, 1794
- Delaware: January 23, 1795
- North Carolina: February 7, 1795
On January 8, 1798, approximately three years after the Eleventh Amendment's actual adoption, President John Adams stated in a message to Congress that it had been ratified by the necessary number of States and was now a part of the Constitution. New Jersey and Pennsylvania did not take action on the amendment during that era; neither did Tennessee, which had become the 16th State on June 1, 1796. However, on June 25, 2018, the New Jersey Senate adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 75 to ratify the Eleventh Amendment.
Almost exactly three years after its ratification, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hollingsworth v. Virginia, 3 U.S. 378 (1798) resulted in every pending action brought under Chisholm being dismissed due to the amendment's adoption.
The amendment's text does not mention suits brought against a state by its own citizens. However, in Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890), the Supreme Court ruled that the amendment reflects a broader principle of sovereign immunity. As Justice Anthony Kennedy later stated in Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706 (1999):
[S]overeign immunity derives not from the Eleventh Amendment but from the structure of the original Constitution itself. ... Nor can we conclude that the specific Article I powers delegated to Congress necessarily include, by virtue of the Necessary and Proper Clause or otherwise, the incidental authority to subject the States to private suits as a means of achieving objectives otherwise within the scope of the enumerated powers.
However, Justice David Souter, writing for a four-Justice dissent in Alden, said the states surrendered their sovereign immunity when they ratified the Constitution. He read the amendment's text as reflecting a narrow form of sovereign immunity that limited only the diversity jurisdiction of the federal courts. He concluded that neither the Eleventh Amendment in particular nor the Constitution in general insulates the states from suits by individuals.
Application to federal law
Although the Eleventh Amendment grants immunity to states from suit for money damages or equitable relief without their consent, in Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts may enjoin state officials from violating federal law. The Court's ruling in Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445 (1976) allows Congress to abrogate state immunity from suit under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment; this was broadened to include bankruptcy cases by Central Virginia Community College v. Katz, 546 U.S. 356 (2006), based on Article I, Section 8, Clause 4 of the Constitution. In Lapides v. Board of Regents of University System of Georgia, 535 U.S. 613 (2002), the Supreme Court ruled that when a state invokes a federal court's removal jurisdiction, it waives the Eleventh Amendment in the removed case.
The amendment's applicability to unincorporated U.S. territories, where constitutional rights do not fully apply, remained unclear for nearly two centuries after its ratification. In 1983, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that Puerto Rico enjoys Eleventh Amendment immunity. However, subsequent rulings from other federal courts have determined that the other similarly unincorporated territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands, do not enjoy Eleventh Amendment immunity.
Treaties and foreign relations
International law scholar Thomas H. Lee argues that foreign states were intended to be excluded from the Eleventh Amendment's prohibition—i.e., that foreign governments would still be permitted to sue state governments. However, in Principality of Monaco v. Mississippi, 292 U.S. 313 (1934), the Supreme Court ruled that the amendment also protects states from lawsuits by foreign entities, which Lee considers a departure from established jurisprudence; his thesis is that the Eleventh Amendment exempted foreign governments in order to allow recourse for violations of treaty obligations, which in turn promoted positive and peaceful foreign relations between a fledgling U.S. and the international community. Lee likewise argues that the Eleventh Amendment reflected the international legal principle of sovereign equality, whereby foreign states were of equal legal status to the U.S. states, and as such could bring lawsuits.
- Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon
- Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida
- Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Education Expense Board v. College Savings Bank
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- Guam Soc. of Obstetricians and Gynecologists v. Ada, 776 F.Supp. 1422 (D.Guam 1990)
- Norita v. Northern Mariana Islands, 331 F.3d 690 (9th Cir 2003)
- Tonder v. M/V The Burkholder, 630 F.Supp. 691 (D.Virgin Islands 1986)
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- CRS Annotated Constitution: Eleventh Amendment
- Leaving the Chisholm Trail