Facts of the Case
In 1792, Alexander Chisholm attempted to sue the State of Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court over payments due to him for goods that Robert Farquhar had supplied Georgia during the American Revolutionary War. The defendant, Georgia, refused to appear, claiming that as a sovereign state, it could not be sued without consenting to the suit.
Can state citizens sue state governments in federal court?
In a 4-to-1 decision, the Court ruled for the plaintiff, reasoning that Article 3, Section 2, of the Constitution abrogated the states’ sovereign immunity and granted federal courts the affirmative power to hear disputes between private citizens and states. Thus, state conduct was subject to judicial review. Justice Iredell dissented, reasoning that under Common Law, each state was sovereign, and could not be sued without consent. This opinion eventually became law with the passage of the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution, which provides that "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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