Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution

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The Eleventh Amendment in the National Archives

The Eleventh Amendment (Amendment XI) to the United States Constitution, which was passed by Congress on March 4, 1794, and ratified by the states on February 7, 1795, deals with each state's sovereign immunity and was adopted in order to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793).[1]


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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.


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The Eleventh Amendment was the first Constitutional amendment adopted after the Bill of Rights. The amendment was adopted following the Supreme Court's ruling in Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793). In Chisholm, the Court ruled that federal courts had the authority to hear cases in law and equity brought by private citizens against states and that states did not enjoy sovereign immunity from suits made by citizens of other states in federal court. Thus, the amendment clarified Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, which gave diversity jurisdiction to the judiciary to hear cases "between a state and citizens of another state."

Proposal and ratification

The Eleventh Amendment was proposed by the 3rd Congress on March 4, 1794, when it was approved by the House of Representatives by vote of 81 – 9,[2] having been previously passed by the Senate, 23 – 2, on January 14, 1794.[3] The amendment was ratified by the state legislatures of the following states:[4]

  1. New York — March 27, 1794
  2. Rhode Island — March 31, 1794
  3. Connecticut — May 8, 1794
  4. New Hampshire — June 16, 1794
  5. Massachusetts — June 26, 1794
  6. Vermont — November 9, 1794
  7. Virginia — November 18, 1794
  8. Georgia — November 29, 1794
  9. Kentucky — December 7, 1794
  10. Maryland — December 26, 1794
  11. Delaware — January 23, 1795
  12. North Carolina — February 7, 1795

Since there were 15 States in the Union at the time, the ratification by twelve States added the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution. It was subsequently ratified by:

  1. South Carolina — December 4, 1797

On January 8, 1798, approximately three years after the Eleventh Amendment's adoption, President John Adams stated in a message to Congress that the Eleventh Amendment had been ratified by the necessary number of States and that it was now a part of the Constitution of the United States.[5] New Jersey and Pennsylvania did not take action on the amendment; neither did Tennessee, which had become a State on June 16, 1796.


In Hollingsworth v. Virginia, 3 U.S. 378 (1798), the Supreme Court held that every pending action brought under Chisholm had to be dismissed because of the amendment's adoption.[6]

The amendment's text does not mention suits brought against a state by its own citizens. However, in Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890), the Supreme Court ruled that the amendment reflects a broader principle of sovereign immunity. As Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a five-Justice majority, stated in Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706 (1999):<templatestyles src="Template:Blockquote/styles.css" />

[S]overeign immunity derives not from the Eleventh Amendment but from the structure of the original Constitution itself....Nor can we conclude that the specific Article I powers delegated to Congress necessarily include, by virtue of the Necessary and Proper Clause or otherwise, the incidental authority to subject the States to private suits as a means of achieving objectives otherwise within the scope of the enumerated powers.[7]

Writing for a four-Justice dissent in Alden, Justice David Souter said the states surrendered their sovereign immunity when they ratified the Constitution. The dissenting justices read the amendment's text as reflecting a narrow form of sovereign immunity that limited only the diversity jurisdiction of the federal courts. They concluded that the states are not insulated from suits by individuals by either the Eleventh Amendment in particular or the Constitution in general.[8]

Although the Eleventh Amendment grants immunity to states from suit for money damages or equitable relief without their consent, in Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts may enjoin state officials from violating federal law. In Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445 (1976), the Supreme Court ruled that Congress may abrogate state immunity from suit under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Central Virginia Community College v. Katz, 546 U.S. 356 (2006), the Court ruled the Congress could do the same regarding bankruptcy cases by way of Article I, Section 8, Clause 4 of the Constitution. In Lapides v. Board of Regents of Univ. System of Ga., 535 U.S. 613 (2002), the Supreme Court ruled that when a state invokes a federal court's removal jurisdiction, it waives the Eleventh Amendment in the removed case.

The Eleventh Amendment was affirmed in a 1986 case involving Jesse J. Guidry, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries under the administration of Governor David C. Treen. Voison's Oyster House, Inc., of Houma in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, sued Guidry on grounds that the department secretary had denied the company oyster leases. The trial court ordered summary judgment on grounds that Guidry was exempt from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans also affirmed the Eleventh Amendment and ordered dismissal of Voison's suit, not on the merits, but on the lack of proper jurisdiction.[9]

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has ruled that Puerto Rico enjoys Eleventh Amendment immunity.[10]


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  6. Opinion of the Court in Hollingsworth v. Virginia
  7. Opinion of the Court in Alden v. Maine
  8. Dissenting opinion in Alden v. Maine
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  10. e.g., Ramirez v. Puerto Rico Fire Service and Office of Personnel (1st Cir. 1983).

External links