Federalism

Sovereign Immunity

Hans v. Louisiana (1890)

134 US 1 (1890)

Decision: Affirmed
Vote: 9-0
Majority: Bradley, joined by Fuller, Miller, Field, Gray, Blatchford, Lamar, Brewer
Concurrence: Harlan

This is an action brought in the circuit court of the United States, in December, 1884, against the state of Louisiana, by Hans, a citizen of that state, to recover the amount of certain coupons annexed to bonds of the state, issued under the provisions of an act of the legislature …

Petitioner also avers that said provisions of said constitution are in contravention of said contract, and their adoption was an active violation … of article 1, section 10, of the constitution of the United States …

A citation being issued directed to the state, and served upon the governor … the attorney general of the state filed an exception … [saying] “that this court is without jurisdiction … Plaintiff cannot sue the state without its permission; the constitution and laws do not give this honorable court jurisdiction of a suit against the state; and its jurisdiction is respectfully declined.”

“Wherefore respondent prays to be hence dismissed, with costs, and for general relief … ”

Mr. Justice Bradley, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question is presented whether a state can be sued in a circuit court of the United States by one of its own citizens upon a suggestion that the case is one that arises under the constitution or laws of the United States.

The ground taken is that under the constitution … a case is within the jurisdiction of the federal courts without regard to the character of the parties, if it arises under the constitution or laws of the United States, or, which is the same thing, if it necessarily involves a question under said constitution or laws. The language relied on is that clause of the third article of the constitution, which declares that the judicial power of the United States shall extend to all cases in law and equity arising under this constitution …

[T]he plaintiff in error contends that he, being a citizen of Louisiana, is not embarrassed by the obstacle of the eleventh amendment, inasmuch as that amendment only prohibits suits against a state which are brought by the citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of a foreign state. It is true the amendment does so read, and, if there were no other reason or ground for abating his suit, it might be maintainable … that a state may be sued in the federal courts by its own citizens … although not allowing itself to be sued in its own courts. If this is the necessary consequence of the language of the constitution and the law, the result is no less startling and unexpected than was the original decision of this court, that, under the language of the constitution and of the judiciary act of 1789, a state was liable to be sued by a citizen of another state or of a foreign country. That decision was made in the case of Chisholm v. Georgia (1789) … and created such a shock of surprise throughout the country that, at the first meeting of congress thereafter, the eleventh amendment to the constitution was almost unanimously proposed, and was in due course adopted by the legislatures of the states … It did not in terms prohibit suits by individuals against the states, but declared that the constitution should not be construed to import any power to authorize the bringing of such suits …

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, while 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 … 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 …

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 …

But besides the presumption that no anomalous and unheard-of proceedings or suits were intended to be raised up by the Constitution—anomalous and unheard of when the constitution was adopted—an additional reason why the jurisdiction claimed for the circuit court does not exist is the language of the act of Congress by which its jurisdiction is conferred. The words are these:

“The circuit courts of the United States shall have original cognizance, concurrent with the courts of the several states, of all suits … arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States, or treaties,”etc. “Concurrent with the courts of the several states.” Does not this qualification show that congress, in legislating to carry the constitution into effect, did not intend to invest its courts with any new and strange jurisdictions? The state courts have no power to entertain suits by individuals against a state without its consent. Then how does the circuit court, having only concurrent jurisdiction, acquire any such power?

… With regard to the question then before the court, it may be observed that writs of error to judgments in favor of the crown, or of the state, had been known to the law from time immemorial, and had never been considered as exceptions to the rule that an action does not lie against the sovereign. To avoid misapprehension, it may be proper to add that, although the obligations of a state rest for their performance upon its honor and good faith, and cannot be made the subjects of judicial cognizance unless the state consents to be sued or comes itself into court, yet, where property or rights are enjoyed under a grant or contract made by a state, they cannot wantonly be invaded. While the state cannot be compelled by suit to perform its contracts, any attempt on its part to violate property or rights acquired under its contracts may be judicially resisted, and any law impairing the obligation of contracts under which such property or rights are held is void and powerless to affect their enjoyment … The legislative department of a state represents its polity and its will, and is called upon by the highest demands of natural and political law to preserve justice and judgment, and to hold inviolate the public obligations. Any departure from this rule, except for reasons most cogent, (of which the legislature, and not the courts, is the judge,) never fails in the end to incur the odium of the world, and to bring lasting injury upon the state itself. But to deprive the legislature of the power of judging what the honor and safety of the state may require, even at the expense of a temporary failure to discharge the public debts, would be attended with greater evils than such failure can cause. The judgment of the circuit court is affirmed.


Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman (1984)

465 U.S. 89 (1984)

Decision: Reversed and remanded
Vote: 5-4
Majority: Powell, joined by Burger, White, Rehnquist, and O’Connor
Dissent: Brennan
Dissent: Stevens, joined by Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun

JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a federal court may award injunctive relief against state officials on the basis of state law …

This litigation, here for the second time, concerns the conditions of care at petitioner Pennhurst State School and Hospital, a Pennsylvania institution for the care of the mentally retarded …

After concluding that the large size of Pennhurst prevented it from providing the necessary habilitation in the least restrictive environment, the court ordered that “immediate steps be taken to remove the retarded residents from Pennhurst.”  Petitioners were ordered “to provide suitable community living arrangements” for the class members, and the court appointed a Special Master “with the power and duty to plan, organize, direct, supervise and monitor the implementation of this and any further Orders of the Court.” See Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, (1981) …

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed most of the District Court’s judgment … It agreed that respondents had a right to habilitation in the least restrictive environment, but it grounded this right solely on the “bill of rights” provision in the Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act [herein the Act] … The court did not consider the constitutional issues or § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and while it affirmed the District Court’s holding that the MH/MR Act provides a right to adequate habilitation … the court did not decide whether that state right encompassed a right to treatment in the least restrictive setting …

This Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, finding that [the Act] did not create any substantive rights …

On remand, the Court of Appeals affirmed its prior judgment in its entirety … It determined that, in a recent decision, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania had “spoken definitively” in holding that the MH/MR Act required the State to adopt the “least restrictive environment” approach for the care of the mentally retarded … It also rejected petitioners’ argument that the Eleventh Amendment barred a federal court from considering this pendent state law claim. The court noted that the Amendment did not bar a federal court from granting prospective injunctive relief against state officials on the basis of federal claims … and concluded that the same result obtained with respect to a pendent state law claim. It reasoned that … “there cannot be … an Eleventh Amendment exception to that rule … ”

We granted certiorari … and now reverse and remand …

Petitioners … challenge [that] the Eleventh Amendment prohibited the District Court from ordering state officials to conform their conduct to state law …

[T]he Constitution provides that the federal judicial power extends, inter alia, to controversies “between a State and Citizens of another State … ”

A sovereign’s immunity may be waived, and the Court consistently has held that a State may consent to suit against it in federal court … We have insisted, however, that the State’s consent be unequivocally expressed … Our reluctance to infer that a State’s immunity from suit in the federal courts has been negated stems from recognition of the vital role of the doctrine of sovereign immunity in our federal system. A State’s constitutional interest in immunity encompasses not merely whether it may be sued, but where it may be sued …

This Court’s decisions thus establish that “an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another state.” Employees v. Missouri Dept of Public Health and Welfare (1973). There may be a question, however, whether a particular suit in fact is a suit against a State. It is clear, of course, that, in the absence of consent, a suit in which the State or one of its agencies or departments is named as the defendant is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment … This jurisdictional bar applies regardless of the nature of the relief sought …

When the suit is brought only against state officials, a question arises as to whether that suit is a suit against the State itself. Although prior decisions of this Court have not been entirely consistent on this issue, certain principles are well established. The Eleventh Amendment bars a suit against state officials when “the state is the real, substantial party in interest.” Ford v. Dept of Treasury of Indiana (1945) … “[t]he general rule is that relief sought nominally against an officer is in fact against the sovereign if the decree would operate against the latter.” Hawaii v. Gordon (1963).  And, as when the State itself is named as the defendant, a suit against state officials that is in fact a suit against a State is barred regardless of whether it seeks damages or injunctive relief.

The Court has recognized an important exception to this general rule: a suit challenging the constitutionality of a state official’s action is not one against the State … an unconstitutional enactment is “void,” and therefore does not “impart to [the officer] any immunity from responsibility to the supreme authority of the United States.” [Ex parte Young (1908)]. Since the State could not authorize the action, the officer was “stripped of his official or representative character and [was] subjected in his person to the consequences of his individual conduct … ” Ibid …

With these principles in mind, we now turn to the question whether the claim that petitioners violated state law in carrying out their official duties at Pennhurst is one against the State, and therefore barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Respondents advance two principal arguments in support of the judgment below. First, they contend that, under the doctrine of Edelman v. Jordan [(1974)], the suit is not against the State because the courts below ordered only prospective injunctive relief. Second, they assert that the state law claim properly was decided under the doctrine of pendent jurisdiction. Respondents rely on decisions of this Court awarding relief against state officials on the basis of a pendent state law claim …

We first address the contention that respondents’ state law claim is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment because it seeks only prospective relief … The Court of Appeals held that, if the judgment below rested on federal law, it could be entered against petitioner state officials under the doctrine established in Edelman and Young even though the prospective financial burden was substantial and ongoing. The court assumed, and respondents assert, that this reasoning applies as well when the official acts in violation of state law. This argument misconstrues the basis of the doctrine established in Young and Edelman …

[T]he injunction in Young was justified, notwithstanding the obvious impact on the State itself, on the view that sovereign immunity does not apply because an official who acts unconstitutionally is “stripped of his official or representative character … ” [T]he Young doctrine has been accepted as necessary to permit the federal courts to vindicate federal rights and hold state officials responsible to “the supreme authority of the United States … ”

The Court also has recognized, however, that the need to promote the supremacy of federal law must be accommodated to the constitutional immunity of the States. This is the significance of Edelman v. Jordan … Edelman’s distinction between prospective and retroactive relief fulfills the underlying purpose of Ex parte Young, while at the same time preserving to an important degree the constitutional immunity of the States.

This need to reconcile competing interests is wholly absent, however, when a plaintiff alleges that a state official has violated state law. In such a case, the entire basis for the doctrine of Young and Edelman disappears. A federal court’s grant of relief against state officials on the basis of state law, whether prospective or retroactive, does not vindicate the supreme authority of federal law. On the contrary, it is difficult to think of a greater intrusion on state sovereignty than when a federal court instructs state officials on how to conform their conduct to state law. Such a result conflicts directly with the principles of federalism that underlie the Eleventh Amendment. We conclude that Young and Edelman are inapplicable in a suit against state officials on the basis of state law …

[A] federal suit against state officials on the basis of state law contravenes the Eleventh Amendment when — as here — the relief sought and ordered has an impact directly on the State itself. In reaching a contrary conclusion, the Court of Appeals relied principally on a separate line of cases dealing with pendent jurisdiction. The crucial point for the Court of Appeals was that this Court has granted relief against state officials on the basis of a pendent state law claim …

This Court long has held generally that, when a federal court obtains jurisdiction over a federal claim, it may adjudicate other related claims over which the court otherwise would not have jurisdiction … The Court also has held that a federal court may resolve a case solely on the basis of a pendent state law claim … and that, in fact, the court usually should do so in order to avoid federal constitutional questions … But pendent jurisdiction is a judge-made doctrine inferred from the general language of Art. III. The question presented is whether this doctrine may be viewed as displacing the explicit limitation on federal jurisdiction contained in the Eleventh Amendment.

As the Court of Appeals noted … relief was granted against state officials on the basis of state law claims that were pendent to federal constitutional claims. In none of these cases, however, did the Court so much as mention the Eleventh Amendment in connection with the state law claim. Rather, the Court appears to have assumed that, once jurisdiction was established over the federal law claim, the doctrine of pendent jurisdiction would establish power to hear the state law claims as well …

[T]he implicit view of these cases seems to have been that, once jurisdiction is established on the basis of a federal question, no further Eleventh Amendment inquiry is necessary with respect to other claims raised in the case. This is an erroneous view, and contrary to the principles established in our Eleventh Amendment decisions. “The Eleventh Amendment is an explicit limitation of the judicial power of the United States.” Missouri v. Fiske (1933). It deprives a federal court of power to decide certain claims against States that otherwise would be within the scope of Art. III’s grant of jurisdiction. For example, if a lawsuit against state officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleges a constitutional claim, the federal court is barred from awarding damages against the state treasury even though the claim arises under the Constitution …  The Amendment thus is a specific constitutional bar against hearing even federal claims that otherwise would be within the jurisdiction of the federal courts … The Eleventh Amendment should not be construed to apply with less force to this implied form of jurisdiction than it does to the explicitly granted power to hear federal claims. The history of the adoption and development of the Amendment … confirms that it is an independent limitation on all exercises of Art. III power …

[N]either pendent jurisdiction nor any other basis of jurisdiction may override the Eleventh Amendment. A federal court must examine each claim in a case to see if the court’s jurisdiction over that claim is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. We concluded above that a claim that state officials violated state law in carrying out their official responsibilities is a claim against the State that is protected by the Eleventh Amendment. We now hold that this principle applies as well to state law claims brought into federal court under pendent jurisdiction …

The Court of Appeals upheld the judgment of the District Court solely on the basis of Pennsylvania’s MH/MR Act. We hold that these federal courts lacked jurisdiction to enjoin petitioner state institutions and state officials on the basis of this state law. The District Court also rested its decision on the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. On remand, the Court of Appeals may consider to what extent, if any, the judgment may be sustained on these bases. The court also may consider whether relief may be granted to respondents under the Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 6011, 6063 (1976 ed. and Supp. V). The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.


Alden v. Maine (1999)

527 U.S. 706 (1999)

Decision: Affirmed
Vote: 5-4
Majority: Kennedy, joined by Scalia, Thomas, Rehnquist, and O’Connor
Dissent: Souter, joined by Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1992, petitioners, a group of probation officers, filed suit against their employer, the State of Maine, in the United States District Court for the District of Maine. The officers alleged the State had violated the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) … While the suit was pending, this Court decided Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, (1996), which made it clear that Congress lacks power under Article I to abrogate the States’ sovereign immunity from suits commenced or prosecuted in the federal courts. Upon consideration of Seminole Tribe, the District Court dismissed petitioners’ action, and the Court of Appeals affirmed …

We hold that the powers delegated to Congress under Article I of the United States Constitution do not include the power to subject nonconsenting States to private suits for damages in state courts. We decide as well that the State of Maine has not consented to suits for overtime pay and liquidated damages under the FLSA. On these premises we affirm the judgment sustaining dismissal of the suit …

We have … sometimes referred to the States’ immunity from suit as “Eleventh Amendment immunity.” The phrase is convenient shorthand but something of a misnomer, for the sovereign immunity of the States neither derives from, nor is limited by, the terms of the Eleventh Amendment. Rather, as the Constitution’s structure, its history, and the authoritative interpretations by this Court make clear, the States’ immunity from suit is a fundamental aspect of the sovereignty which the States enjoyed before the ratification of the Constitution, and which they retain today …

Although the Constitution establishes a National Government with broad, often plenary authority over matters within its recognized competence, the founding document “specifically recognizes the States as sovereign entities.” Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida … Various textual provisions of the Constitution assume the States’ continued existence and active participation in the fundamental processes of governance … The limited and enumerated powers granted to the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches of the National Government, moreover, underscore the vital role reserved to the States by the constitutional design … Any doubt regarding the constitutional role of the States as sovereign entities is removed by the Tenth Amendment, which, like the other provisions of the Bill of Rights, was enacted to allay lingering concerns about the extent of the national power. The Amendment confirms the promise implicit in the original document …

The federal system established by our Constitution preserves the sovereign status of the States in two ways. First, it reserves to them a substantial portion of the Nation’s primary sovereignty, together with the dignity and essential attributes inhering in that status …

Second, even as to matters within the competence of the National Government, the constitutional design secures the founding generation’s rejection of “the concept of a central government that would act upon and through the States” in favor of “a system in which the State and Federal Governments would exercise concurrent authority over the people— who were, in Hamilton’s words, ‘the only proper objects of government.’ ” Printz v. US (1997) …

The States thus retain “a residuary and inviolable sovereignty.” The Federalist No. 39. They are not relegated to the role of mere provinces or political corporations, but retain the dignity, though not the full authority, of sovereignty.

The generation that designed and adopted our federal system considered immunity from private suits central to sovereign dignity. When the Constitution was ratified, it was well established in English law that the Crown could not be sued without consent in its own courts …

Although the American people had rejected other aspects of English political theory, the doctrine that a sovereign could not be sued without its consent was universal in the States when the Constitution was drafted and ratified …

Although the state conventions which addressed the issue of sovereign immunity in their formal ratification documents sought to clarify the point by constitutional amendment, they made clear that they, like Hamilton, Madison, and Marshall, understood the Constitution as drafted to preserve the States’ immunity from private suits …

Not only do the ratification debates and the events leading to the adoption of the Eleventh Amendment reveal the original understanding of the States’ constitutional immunity from suit; they also underscore the importance of sovereign immunity to the founding generation. Simply put, “The Constitution never would have been ratified if the States and their courts were to be stripped of their sovereign authority except as expressly provided by the Constitution itself.” Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, (1985) …

The Court has been consistent in interpreting the adoption of the Eleventh Amendment as conclusive evidence “that the decision in Chisholm was contrary to the well-understood meaning of the Constitution,” Seminole Tribe … As a consequence, we have looked to “history and experience, and the established order of things,” rather than “[a]dhering to the mere letter” of the Eleventh Amendment, in determining the scope of the States’ constitutional immunity from suit …

Following this approach, the Court has upheld States’ assertions of sovereign immunity in various contexts falling outside the literal text of the Eleventh Amendment …

These holdings reflect a settled doctrinal understanding, consistent with the views of the leading advocates of the Constitution’s ratification, that sovereign immunity derives not from the Eleventh Amendment but from the structure of the original Constitution itself … The Eleventh Amendment confirmed, rather than established, sovereign immunity as a constitutional principle; it follows that the scope of the States’ immunity from suit is demarcated not by the text of the Amendment alone but by fundamental postulates implicit in the constitutional design …

In this case we must determine whether Congress has the power, under Article I, to subject nonconsenting States to private suits in their own courts …

“[T]here is also the postulate that States of the Union, still possessing attributes of sovereignty, shall be immune from suits, without their consent, save where there has been ‘a surrender of this immunity in the plan of the convention.’ ” (quoting The Federalist No. 81) … This separate and distinct structural principle is not directly related to the scope of the judicial power established by Article III, but inheres in the system of federalism established by the Constitution. In exercising its Article I powers Congress may subject the States to private suits in their own courts only if there is “compelling evidence” that the States were required to surrender this power to Congress pursuant to the constitutional design.

Petitioners contend the text of the Constitution and our recent sovereign immunity decisions establish that the States were required to relinquish this portion of their sovereignty. We turn first to these sources.

Article I, §8, grants, Congress broad power to enact legislation in several enumerated areas of national concern. The Supremacy Clause, furthermore, provides:

“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof … , shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

It is contended that, by virtue of these provisions, where Congress enacts legislation subjecting the States to suit, the legislation by necessity overrides the sovereign immunity of the States.

As is evident from its text, however, the Supremacy Clause enshrines as “the supreme Law of the Land” only those Federal Acts that accord with the constitutional design …

The Constitution, by delegating to Congress the power to establish the supreme law of the land when acting within its enumerated powers, does not foreclose a State from asserting immunity to claims arising under federal law merely because that law derives not from the State itself but from the national power … We reject any contention that substantive federal law by its own force necessarily overrides the sovereign immunity of the States. When a State asserts its immunity to suit, the question is not the primacy of federal law but the implementation of the law in a manner consistent with the constitutional sovereignty of the States.

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. Although some of our decisions had endorsed this contention … they have since been overruled …

In light of the ratification debates and the history of the Eleventh Amendment, there is no reason to believe the Founders intended the Constitution to preserve a more restricted immunity in the United States. On the contrary, Congress’ refusal to modify the text of the Eleventh Amendment to create an exception to sovereign immunity for cases arising under treaties … suggests the States’ sovereign immunity was understood to extend beyond state-law causes of action.

[T]he Founders’ silence is best explained by the simple fact that no one, not even the Constitution’s most ardent opponents, suggested the document might strip the States of the immunity … It suggests the sovereign’s right to assert immunity from suit in its own courts was a principle so well established that no one conceived it would be altered by the new Constitution …

Our final consideration is whether a congressional power to subject nonconsenting States to private suits in their own courts is consistent with the structure of the Constitution. We look both to the essential principles of federalism and to the special role of the state courts in the constitutional design.

Although the Constitution grants broad powers to Congress, our federalism requires that Congress treat the States in a manner consistent with their status as residuary sovereigns and joint participants in the governance of the Nation …

Petitioners contend that immunity from suit in federal court suffices to preserve the dignity of the States. Private suits against nonconsenting States, however, present “the indignity of subjecting a State to the coercive process of judicial tribunals at the instance of private parties,” In re Ayers (1887) … Not only must a State defend or default but also it must face the prospect of being thrust, by federal fiat and against its will, into the disfavored status of a debtor, subject to the power of private citizens to levy on its treasury or perhaps even government buildings or property which the State administers on the public’s behalf.

In some ways, of course, a congressional power to authorize private suits against nonconsenting States in their own courts would be even more offensive to state sovereignty than a power to authorize the suits in a federal forum. Although the immunity of one sovereign in the courts of another has often depended in part on comity or agreement, the immunity of a sovereign in its own courts has always been understood to be within the sole control of the sovereign itself … A power to press a State’s own courts into federal service to coerce the other branches of the State, furthermore, is the power first to turn the State against itself and ultimately to commandeer the entire political machinery of the State against its will and at the behest of individuals … Such plenary federal control of state governmental processes denigrates the separate sovereignty of the States.

It is unquestioned that the Federal Government retains its own immunity from suit not only in state tribunals but also in its own courts. In light of our constitutional system recognizing the essential sovereignty of the States, we are reluctant to conclude that the States are not entitled to a reciprocal privilege …

A general federal power to authorize private suits for money damages would place unwarranted strain on the States’ ability to govern in accordance with the will of their citizens. Today, as at the time of the founding, the allocation of scarce resources among competing needs and interests lies at the heart of the political process … Since all cannot be satisfied in full, it is inevitable that difficult decisions involving the most sensitive and political of judgments must be made. If the principle of representative government is to be preserved to the States, the balance between competing interests must be reached after deliberation by the political process established by the citizens of the State, not by judicial decree mandated by the Federal Government and invoked by the private citizen …

A State is entitled to order the processes of its own governance, assigning to the political branches, rather than the courts, the responsibility for directing the payment of debts … If Congress could displace a State’s allocation of governmental power and responsibility, the judicial branch of the State, whose legitimacy derives from fidelity to the law, would be compelled to assume a role not only foreign to its experience but beyond its competence as defined by the very Constitution from which its existence derives …

In light of history, practice, precedent, and the structure of the Constitution, we hold that the States retain immunity from private suit in their own courts, an immunity beyond the congressional power to abrogate by Article I legislation.

The constitutional privilege of a State to assert its sovereign immunity in its own courts does not confer upon the State a concomitant right to disregard the Constitution or valid federal law. The States and their officers are bound by obligations imposed by the Constitution and by federal statutes that comport with the constitutional design. We are unwilling to assume the States will refuse to honor the Constitution or obey the binding laws of the United States …

Sovereign immunity, moreover, does not bar all judicial review of state compliance with the Constitution and valid federal law. Rather, certain limits are implicit in the constitutional principle of state sovereign immunity.

The principle of sovereign immunity as reflected in our jurisprudence strikes the proper balance between the supremacy of federal law and the separate sovereignty of the States … That we have, during the first 210 years of our constitutional history, found it unnecessary to decide the question presented here suggests a federal power to subject nonconsenting States to private suits in their own courts is unnecessary to uphold the Constitution and valid federal statutes as the supreme law.

The sole remaining question is whether Maine has waived its immunity … The State, we conclude, has not consented to suit …

The difference between a suit by the United States on behalf of the employees and a suit by the employees implicates a rule that the National Government must itself deem the case of sufficient importance to take action against the State; and history, precedent, and the structure of the Constitution make clear that, under the plan of the Convention, the States have consented to suits of the first kind but not of the second. The judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine is

Affirmed.


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