The 11th Amendment

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The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution, which addresses the sovereign immunity of states, was, essentially, crafted to overrule a Supreme Court decision.

The Court, in Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) had allowed a lawsuit from the executor of a South Carolina estate, allowing him to sue the state of Georgia to recover the debt owed to the deceased.

At the time that Chisholm was handed down, the war was only a dozen years gone and most states still owed a lot of money to creditors foreign and domestic. Many in Congress worried about the ramifications of the Court's decision, in particular the idea, according to Chief Justice John Jay, that Loyalists could sue to reclaim property seized during the recently concluded Revolutionary War.

A mere two days after the announcement of the Court's decision in Chisholm, a Senator submitted to Congress what became the 11th Amendment.

The text of the Amendment is this:

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.

A mere 23 days after the 11th Amendment was approved by Congress, on March 27, 1794, New York became the first state to approve the Amendment. Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and North Carolina, with the latter's approval, on Feb. 7, 1795, bringing the Amendment into the fold as the Law of the Land.

The Amendment does not address suits brought by individuals against their own state government, but subsequent Court decisions have focused on this.

The idea of the individual states' having or not having sovereign immunity has also been the focus of several Court decisions through the years.

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David White