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Understanding the 11th Amendment

Understanding the 11th Amendment

The Eleventh Amendment was the first to revise the Constitution after the ratification of the first ten in the Bill of Rights. The Eleventh Amendment was passed by Congress on March 4th, 1794, and ratified by a 3/4 state majority on February 7, 1795–New Jersey and Pennsylvania being the only two states not to ratify the Eleventh Amendment.

The Eleventh Amendment 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 or of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State."  In other words, the Federal courts are limited and restricted from hearing lawsuits against any state's government that are brought by citizens of another state or foreign country. An example of this would be the State of New York enacting the Eleventh Amendment to protect itself from being sued in a Federal court by people living in the state, as well as residents of other states, or a foreign country.

The Eleventh Amendment resulted due to Chisholm v. Georgia, in which Alexander Chisholm sued the State of Georgia for a debt that was owed to Captain Robert Farquhar. Farquhar was a merchant in South Carolina who sold supplies to the State of Georgia on credit. After the war, Georgia decided that it would not pay its debt on the basis that Farquhar was allegedly a British loyalist. Farquhar left Chisolm as the executor of his estate upon his death, which enabled him to bring suit against Georgia. The lawsuit was heard by the Supreme Court and rendered a decision in Chisolm's favor.

The verdict would be the subject of much controversy and disapproval by the many states, most obviously and notably, the State of Georgia. The resentment was such that the State of Georgia passed a law stating that anyone that would adhere to the verdict given in the Chisholm case would be liable to hanging.

The Eleventh Amendment was drafted and proposed, and quickly ratified into law, which reversed the original decision by the Supreme Court judicial branch. The protection of the State from being sued in a Federal court became known as Sovereign Immunity. Originally, the Eleventh Amendment only barred citizens of other states suing a state in a judicial branch jurisdiction, but it was extended to include residents of the same state as well through the Hans v. Louisiana case.

Even though Sovereign Immunity is granted by the Eleventh Amendment, there are four exceptions in which the Supreme Court and Federal judicial branch may hear a lawsuit levied against a state. The Eleventh Amendment does not protect a state's political subdivisions, such as counties, cities, or municipalities, which are all liable to be sued in a Federal judicial branch jurisdiction. Also, under the Eleventh Amendment states have the right to waive their Sovereign Immunity and allow a suit in a Federal court.

In certain cases, Congress allows for a state to be sued and heard in a Federal court under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The last exception relates to the citizens seeking an injunction against state officials in a Federal court, if they are in violation of a Federal law. The litigation remedy applies strictly to only injunction relief, but not monetary damages that would be furnished by the State's Treasury Department.