134 U.S. 1 (1890).

A Supreme Court opinion on the reach of the Eleventh Amendment.

The case involved a lawsuit instituted by a Louisiana citizen for monetary damages in federal court against the State of Louisiana after the state had repudiated its obligations under a contract for the sale of state-issued bonds. Expanding the protection afforded by the eleventh amendment, the Supreme Court held that the amendment should not be limited to its literal language and that it operated to preclude suits in federal courts brought against a state by one of its own citizens, even when the action originally arose under the Constitution or a federal statute.

The Court justified expanding the scope of the eleventh amendment by explaining that it would be “almost an absurdity” to restrict the scope of the amendment to its express language.  The Court emphasized that the constitutional amendment was designed to embody an understanding of state immunity in existence prior to the ratification of the Constitution and, therefore, it would be counterintuitive to assume that Congress intended to preclude a state from being sued in federal court by a citizen of another state, while allowing the same action to be brought by citizens of that state.

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