The Text

The Eleventh Amendment provides:

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 History

The Eleventh Amendment was adopted in 1795 and formally ratified in 1798.

It was enacted as a direct result of the 1793 Supreme Court decision in Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419 (1793).  Chisholm involved a South Carolina citizen suing the State of Georgia in the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the estate of a deceased South Carolina citizen for the value of military supplies sold to the state by the deceased.  Refusing to enter an appearance, the State of Georgia challenged the Court’s original jurisdiction.  Relying on article III, section 2 of the Constitution and the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Chisholm Court held that states were subject to the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction over suits between a state and citizens of another state.

Responding to the Court’s decision in Chisholm, Congress swiftly proposed an amendment to the Constitution precluding suits in federal court against a state by citizens of another state.  As ratified by the states, the eleventh amendment expressly provided immunity to a state from suit in federal court by a citizen of another state or foreign country.

The Scope and Purpose

The Eleventh Amendment provides states sovereign immunity in federal courts.  The Amendment enacts a sovereign immunity from suit, rather than a nonwaivable limit on the Federal Judiciary’s subject-matter jurisdiction.

But the Eleventh Amendment does not automatically destroy original jurisdiction.  The Amendment grants the State a legal power to assert a sovereign immunity defense should it choose to do so.  The State can waive the defense.

The Eleventh Amendment jurisdictional bar covers suits naming state agencies and departments as defendants, and applies whether the relief sought is legal or equitable in nature.

Finally, even though the Amendment seemingly applies only to judicial power of federal courts to hear an action against a state by a citizen of another state, it is established that an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State.

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