By Tyler Bauer
This is the eleventh of many blog posts that will be taking a deeper look at the various amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as proposed amendments to the United States Constitution which failed. The text of each amendment is taken from constitutionus.com and information on failed amendments is taken from www.lexisnexus.com.
The Eleventh Amendment
What it Says
“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.”
What it Means
The federal courts do not have the authority to hear a case brought by a citizen of another state (or of another country) against a state. For example, the federal courts don’t have the authority to hear a case brought by an Ohio citizen (or a German citizen) against the state of Wisconsin.
Why it Matters
The Eleventh Amendment is important because it clarifies a clause in Article III of the Constitution. Article III, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution provides in part that “the judicial power shall extend to all cases . . . between a State and Citizens of another State . . .”
This amendment was proposed and ratified in response to Chisholm v. Georgia, a 1793 United States Supreme Court case. In this case, the majority of the Supreme Court decided that the state of Georgia did not have sovereign immunity, meaning Chisholm – a citizen of South Carolina – could sue the state of Georgia in a federal court. The lone dissenting justice in this case, Justice Iredell, believed that the majority of the Supreme Court effectively robbed the state of Georgia of its sovereign immunity and believed that states could not be sued without their consent.
Congress proposed the Eleventh Amendment to the states’ legislatures in March of 1794. By February of 1795, the necessary number of states had ratified the amendment, meaning that the decision in Chisholm v. Georgia had been superseded. Though it may not seem important, the Eleventh Amendment protects the states from the judicial branch of the federal government, which provides the states with a certain level of protection from federal overreach.