11th Amendment: Suits Against States

Full Text of the 11th Amendment

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

Synopsis:

When the Supreme Court held in the 1793 case Chisholm v. Georgia that a state could be sued in federal court under Article III of the Constitution, this amendment was rapidly adopted.  It provided that states could only be sued in state courts. Source:  U.S. Senate

Interpretation:

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1793 that two South Carolina men could sue and collect debts from the State of Georgia, states-rights advocates in Congress and the states pushed for what became the Eleventh Amendment in 1795. The amendment specifically prohibits federal courts from hearing cases in which a state is sued by an individual from another state or another country. Protecting states from certain types of legal liability is a concept known as “sovereign immunity.”

The amendment did not bar all lawsuits against states in federal courts. For example, as initially interpreted, the Eleventh Amendment did not bar suits against states when a matter of federal law was at issue nor did it prevent suits brought against a state by its own citizens. But more recently, a divided Supreme Court has held that states are immune from all lawsuits in federal courts unless they specifically agree to be sued. Source: Annenberg Classroom

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