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Opinion of the Court.
"It is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without its consent. This is the general sense and the general practice of mankind; and the exemption, as one of the attributes of sovereignty, is now enjoyed by the government of every State in the Union. Unless, therefore, there is a surrender of this immunity in the plan of the convention, it will remain with the States, and the danger intimated must be merely ideal. The circumstances which are necessary to produce an alienation of state sovereignty were discussed in considering the article of taxation, and need not be repeated here. A recurrence to the principles there established will satisfy us, that there is no color to pretend that the state governments would, by the adoption of that plan, be divested of the privilege of paying their own debts in their own way, free from every constraint but that which flows from the obligations of good faith. The contracts between a nation and individuals are only binding on the conscience of the sovereign, and have no pretension to a compulsive force. They confer no right of action independent of the sovereign will. To what purpose would it be to authorize suits against States for the debts they owe? How could recoveries be enforced? It is evident that it could not be done without waging war against the contracting State; and to ascribe to the federal courts by mere implication, and in destruction of a pre-existing right of the state governments, a power which would involve such a consequence, would be altogether forced and unwarrantable."
The obnoxious clause to which Hamilton's argument was directed, and which was the ground of the objections which he so forcibly met, was that which declared that “the judicial power shall extend to all controversies between a State and between a State
and citizens of another State, and foreign states, citizens or subjects." It was argued by the opponents of the Constitution that this clause would authorize jurisdiction to be given to the federal courts to entertain suits against a State brought by the citizens of another State, or of a foreign state. Adhering to the mere letter, it might be so; and so, in fact, the Supreme Court held in Chisholm v.
Opinion of the Court.
Georgia; but looking at the subject as Hamilton did, and as Mr. Justice Iredell did, in the light of history and experience and the established order of things, the views of the latter were clearly right, as the people of the United States in their sovereign capacity subsequently decided.
But Hamilton was not alone in protesting against the construction put upon the Constitution by its opponents. In the Virginia convention the same objections were raised by George Mason and Patrick Henry, and were met by Madison and Marshall as follows. Madison said: "Its jurisdiction [the federal jurisdiction] in controversies between a State and citizens of another State is much objected to, and perhaps without reason. It is not in the power of individuals to call any State into court. The only operation it can have is that, if a State should wish to bring a suit against a citizen, it must be brought before the federal court. This will give satisfaction to individuals, as it will prevent citizens on whom a State may have a claim being dissatisfied with the state courts. It appears to me that this [clause] can have no operation but this to give a citizen a right to be heard in the federal courts; and if a State should condescend to be a party, this .court may take cognizance of it." 3 Elliott's Debates, 2d ed. 533. Marshall, in answer to the same objection, said: "With respect to disputes between a State and the citizens of another State, its jurisdiction has been decried with unusual vehemence. I hope that no gentleman will think that a State will be called at the bar of the federal court. It is not rational to suppose that the sovereign power should be dragged before a court. The intent is to enable States to recover claims of individuals residing in other States.
But, say they, there will be partiality in it if a State cannot be defendant-if an individual cannot proceed to obtain judgment against a State, though he may be sued by a State. It is necessary to be so, and cannot be avoided. I see a difficulty in making a State defendant which does not prevent its being plaintiff" Ib. 555.
It seems to us that these views of those great advocates and defenders of the Constitution were most sensible and just; and
Opinion of the Court.
they apply equally to the present case as to that then under discussion. The letter is appealed to now, as it was then, as a ground for sustaining a suit brought by an individual against a State. The reason against it is as strong in this case as it was in that. It is an attempt to strain the Constitution and the law to a construction never imagined or dreamed of. Can we suppose that, when the Eleventh Amendment was adopted, it was understood to be left open for citizens of a State to sue their own state in the federal courts, whilst the idea of suits by citizens of other states, or of foreign states, was indignantly repelled? Suppose that Congress, when proposing the Eleventh Amendment, had appended to it a proviso that nothing therein contained should prevent a State from being sued by its own citizens in cases arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States: can we imagine that it would have been adopted by the States? The supposition that it would is almost an absurdity on its face.
The truth is, that the cognizance of suits and actions unknown to the law, and forbidden by the law, was not contemplated by the Constitution when establishing the judicial power of the United States. Some things, undoubtedly, were made justiciable which were not known as such at the common law; such, for example, as controversies between States as to boundary lines, and other questions admitting of judicial solution. And yet the case of Penn v. Lord Baltimore, 1 Ves. Sen. 444, shows that some of these unusual subjects of litigation were not unknown to the courts even in colonial times; and several cases of the same general character arose under the Articles of Confederation, and were brought before the tribunal provided for that purpose in those articles. 131 U. S. App. 1. The establishment of this new branch of jurisdiction seemed to be necessary from the extinguishment of diplomatic relations between the States. Of other controversies between a State and another State or its citizens, which, on the settled principles of public law, are not subjects of judicial cognizance, this court has often declined to take jurisdiction. See Wisconsin v. Pelican Ins. Co., 127 U. S. 265, 288, 289, and cases there cited.
Opinion of the Court.
The suability of a State without its consent was a thing unknown to the law. This has been so often laid down and acknowledged by courts and jurists that it is hardly necessary to be formally asserted. It was fully shown by an exhaustive examination of the old law by Mr. Justice Iredell in his opinion in Chisholm v. Georgia; and it has been conceded in every case since, where the question has, in any way, been presented, even in the cases which have gone farthest in sustaining suits against the officers or agents of States. Osborn v. Bank of United States, 9 Wheat. 738; Davis v. Gray, 16 Wall. 203; Board of Liquidation v. McComb, 92 U. S. 531; United States v. Lee, 106 U. S. 196; Poindexter v. Greenhow, 109 U. S. 63; Virginia Coupon Cases, 114 U. S. 269. In all these cases the effort was to show, and the court held, that the suits were not against the State or the United States, but against the individuals; conceding that if they had been against either the State or the United States, they could not be maintained.
Mr. Webster stated the law with precision in his letter to Baring Brothers & Co., of October 16, 1839. Works, Vol. VI, 537, 539. "The security for state loans," he said, "is the plighted faith of the State as a political community. It rests on the same basis as other contracts with established governments, the same basis, for example, as loans made by the United States under the authority of Congress; that is to say, the good faith of the government making the loan, and its ability to fulfil its engagements."
In Briscoe v. Bank of Kentucky, 11 Pet. 257, 321, Mr. Justice McLean, delivering the opinion of the court, said: "What means of enforcing payment from the State had the holder of a bill of credit? It is said by the counsel for the plaintiffs, that he could have sued the State. But was a State liable to be sued? No sovereign State is liable to be sued without her consent. Under the Articles of Confederation, a State could be sued only in cases of boundary. It is believed that there is no case where a suit has been brought, at any time, on bills of credit against a State; and it is certain that no suit could have been maintained on this ground prior to the Constitution."
Opinion of the Court.
"It may be accepted as a point of departure unquestioned," said Mr. Justice Miller, in Cunningham v. Macon & Brunswick Railroad, 109 U. S. 446, 451, "that neither a State nor the United States can be sued as defendant in any court in this country without their consent, except in the limited class of cases in which a State may be made a party in the Supreme Court of the United States by virtue of the original jurisdiction conferred on this court by the Constitution."
Undoubtedly a State may be sued by its own consent, as was the case in Curran v. Arkansas et al., 15 How. 304, 309, and in Clark v. Barnard, 108 U. S. 436, 447. The suit in the former case was prosecuted by virtue of a state law which the legislature passed in conformity to the constitution of that state. But this court decided, in Beers et al. v. Arkansas, 20 How. 527, 529, that the State could repeal that law at any time; that it was not a contract within the terms of the constitution prohibiting the passage of state laws impairing the obligation of a contract. In that case the law allowing the State to be sued was modified, pending certain suits against the State on its bonds, so as to require the bonds to be filed in court, which was objected to as an unconstitutional change of the law. Chief Justice Taney, delivering the opinion of the court, said: "It is an established principle of jurisprudence in all civilized nations that the sovereign cannot be sued in its own courts, or in any other, without its consent and permission; but it may, if it thinks proper, waive this privilege and permit itself to be made a defendant in a suit by individuals, or by another State. And as this permission is altogether voluntary on the part of the sovereignty, it follows that it may prescribe the terms and conditions on which it consents to be sued, and the manner in which the suit shall be conducted, and may withdraw its consent whenever it may sup pose that justice to the public requires it. The prior law was not a contract. It was an ordinary act of legislation, prescribing the conditions upon which the State consented to waive the privilege of sovereignty. It contained no stipulation that these regulations should not be modified afterwards if, upon experience, it was found that further provisions were