State Immunity: The Eleventh Amendment
The Eleventh Amendment limits private actions brought against states in federal court. Its full text provides:
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 was ratified in 1798 in order to overrule the Supreme Court’s decision that a South Carolina citizen could sue the state of Georgia for money damages. [Chisholm v. Ga., 2 U.S. 419 (1793)] This decision caused uproar amongst the states because it impinged on the sovereignty of the state, which was supposed to have been retained in the Constitution. Shortly thereafter, the amendment was passed.
The Eleventh Amendment prevents federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over state defendants--the federal court will not even hear the case if a state is the defendant. A state may not be sued in federal court by its own citizen or a citizen of another state, unless the state consents to jurisdiction. [Hans v. La., 134 U.S. 1 (1890)] Consent to the jurisdiction of the federal court may be manifested by the state voluntarily appearing in the court to defend itself on the merits of the case. [Gunter v. A. Coast Line R.R., 200 U.S. 273, 284 (1906)] Eleventh Amendment immunity extends to suits filed against the state in state courts and before federal administrative agencies. [Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706 (1999); Fed. Mar. Comm'n v. S.C. State Ports Auth., 535 U.S. 743 (2002)] Unless the state or the federal government creates an exception to the state's sovereign immunity, the state is immune from being sued without consent by any citizen in federal courts, state courts, or before federal administrative agencies.