Home Amendments An Overview of the 11th Amendment – Simplified & Explained

An Overview of the 11th Amendment – Simplified & Explained

An Overview of the 11th Amendment

11th Amendment Overview

The 11th amendment is a part of the United States Constitution and is one of the least discussed and understood amendments. The amendment’s inclusion was a response to the landmark Supreme Court case, Chisholm v. Georgia, where a South Carolina citizen sued Georgia over unpaid revolutionary war debts. The case appeared before the Supreme Court in 1793, initiating a controversy that influenced the drafting of the 11th amendment. This amendment has had a considerable impact on the interpretation of the Constitution and the operation of the American political system. In this article, we will delve deeper into the 11th amendment, its history, significance, and how it has helped shape the United States.

The amendment’s text states, “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.” Essentially, the amendment seeks to limit federal jurisdiction over lawsuits against states. This means that if a citizen of one state wants to sue another state, that lawsuit cannot happen in a federal court.

What does this mean, in practical terms? Essentially, the 11th amendment greatly limits the power of federal courts to deal with lawsuits against states. It is a crucial aspect of the “federalism” model of the U.S. government that divides power between the states and the federal government. Under this framework, states have some degree of sovereignty. They can pass their own laws, and their citizens can only sue each other in state court.

The origins of the 11th amendment date back to 1793 with the Supreme Court case Chisholm v. Georgia. The case involved a South Carolina citizen, Alexander Chisholm, who sued the state of Georgia over unpaid debts stemming from the Revolutionary War.

At the time, it was unclear whether or not the federal courts had the authority to hear lawsuits brought against states by individuals from different states. The Supreme Court’s decision in Chisholm v. Georgia confirmed that the federal courts did indeed have that jurisdiction.

The decision caused tremendous controversy, with many states voicing concerns that it infringed on their sovereignty. The idea that a state could be sued in a federal court represented a significant threat to the idea of state sovereignty. The controversy surrounding the decision led to an intense lobbying effort by states to have the decision overturned.

The controversy ultimately led to the passage of the 11th amendment by Congress and its ratification by the states in 1795. It effectively reversed the Supreme Court’s decision in Chisholm v. Georgia, establishing that states had sovereign immunity and could not be sued in federal court by citizens of another state or foreign country.

The consequences of the 11th amendment have been far-reaching and continue to be felt today. Sovereign immunity has been interpreted broadly by the Supreme Court, ensuring that states cannot be sued without their consent. This principle affords states a great deal of protection from lawsuits brought by individuals, which can be costly and time-consuming. This has allowed states to develop their own unique legal systems and policies without fear of lawsuits that could bankrupt them.

The 11th amendment has also had significant implications for civil rights litigation. In the first half of the 20th century, many states used their sovereign immunity to resist efforts by the federal government to end racial segregation and discrimination. For example, in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that separate but equal schools were unconstitutional. However, many states used their sovereign immunity to delay or resist the implementation of federal mandates. 

In more recent times, the 11th amendment has also played a significant role in shaping debates around issues such as gun control, voting rights, and immigration. For example, in the 2019 case Maryland v. Collins, the Supreme Court ruled that Maryland’s ban on “assault weapons” was not unconstitutional, as states have the right to enact their own gun control laws.

In conclusion, the 11th amendment has been an essential component of the United States’ constitutional framework for over two centuries. By limiting the federal courts’ power to hear lawsuits against states, it has helped to maintain a delicate balance between state and federal sovereignty. While its impact has been significant, the Supreme Court’s broad interpretation of the amendment has been a source of controversy, particularly in civil rights litigation. Despite this, the 11th amendment continues to be an important principle that reflects the unique nature of the American political system.

Eleventh Amendment: State’s Sovereign Immunity

What is the Eleventh 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.

The Eleventh Amendment Defined:

The Eleventh Amendment is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution which follows the Bill of Rights.

The Eleventh Amendment was adopted following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Chisholm v. Georgia in 1793, where the court ruled that the federal judicial system maintains the authority to hear cases in law equity that are brought by private citizens against states and that individual states are not met with sovereign immunity from suits filed by citizens of other states. Through this definition, the court system was given clarity as to the diversity of jurisdiction where a court system would hear cases between a state and a citizen of another state.

Supreme Court Decisions tied into the Eleventh Amendment

In Hans v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court ruled that the Eleventh Amendment reflects a broader principle of sovereign immunity. The Court decision believed that sovereign immunity derives from the original constitution itself and not the script within the Eleventh Amendment. As a result, the court ruled that they could not conclude that the specific Article 1 powers delegated to Congress include the incidental authority to subject the States to private suits as a means of achieving certain objectives within the scope of the enumerated powers.

Eleventh Amendment Proposal and Subsequent Ratification

The Eleventh Amendment was proposed by the United States Congress on March 4, 1794, and was later ratified by the following states on the following days:

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)

Ratification was later completed on February 7, 1795.

South Carolina agreed to the ratification on December 4, 1797

New Jersey and Pennsylvania did not agree to ratify the amendment.