Chisholm v. Georgia
|Chisholm v. Georgia|
|Argued February 5, 1793
Decided February 18, 1793
|Full case name||Alexander Chisholm, Executors v. Georgia|
|Citations||2 U.S. 419 (more)|
|Prior history||Original action filed, U.S. Supreme Court, August, 1792|
|Subsequent history||None on record|
|Article III, Section 2's grant of federal jurisdiction over suits "between a State and Citizens of another State" abrogated the States' sovereign immunity and granted federal courts the affirmative power to hear disputes between private citizens and States.|
|U.S. Const. art. III; Judiciary Act of 1789|
|U.S. Const. amend. XI|
Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419 (1793), is considered the first United States Supreme Court case of significance and impact. Given its date, there was little available legal precedent (particularly in American law). It was superseded in 1795 by the Eleventh Amendment.
Background of the case
In 1792, in South Carolina, Alexander Chisholm, the executor of the estate of Robert Farquhar, attempted to sue the state of Georgia in the Supreme Court over payments due to him for goods that Farquhar had supplied Georgia during the American Revolutionary War. United States Attorney General Edmund Randolph argued the case for the plaintiff before the court. The defendant, Georgia, refused to appear, claiming that, as a sovereign state, it could not be sued without granting its consent to the suit.
The court’s decision
In a four to one decision, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, with Chief Justice John Jay and associate justices John Blair, James Wilson, and William Cushing constituting the majority; only Justice Iredell dissented. (At that time, there was no opinion of the court or majority opinion; the justices delivered their opinions seriatim, that is, individually, and in ascending order of seniority.) The court ruled 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.
Dissenting Opinion: Associate Justice Iredell stated, “A general question of great importance here occurs. What controversy of a civil nature can be maintained against a State by an individual? The framers of the Constitution, I presume, must have meant one of two things: either 1. in the conveyance of that part of the judicial power which did not relate to the execution of the other authorities of the general Government (which it must be admitted are full and discretionary, within the restrictions of the Constitution itself), to refer to antecedent laws for the construction of the general words they use; or, 2. to enable Congress in all such cases to pass all such laws as they might deem necessary and proper to carry the purposes of this Constitution into full effect, either absolutely at their discretion, or at least in cases where prior laws were deficient for such purposes, if any such deficiency existed.” He felt that neither of these things were being argued in the case and as such he surmised that under Common Law the States were sovereign, just as the British Crown had been when America had first been settled, and that they could not be sued without consent. Although he was the only dissenting opinion his finding would ultimately prove to be the law of the land. The States being surprised by the decision of the Supreme Court would call for the 11th Amendment to the Constitution, which prevents the States from being sued in Federal Court without that State’s consent. The 11th Amendment was ratified in 1794 by 12 states, only New Jersey and Pennsylvania voted against ratification.
Mostly because of Chisholm v. Georgia, the Eleventh Amendment was ratified in 1795 and all pending court actions from Chisholm were dismissed. This removed federal jurisdiction in cases where citizens of one state or of foreign countries attempt to sue another state. However, citizens of one state or of foreign countries can still use the federal courts if the state consents to be sued, or if Congress, pursuant to a valid exercise of Fourteenth Amendment remedial powers, abrogates the states' immunity from suit. See Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445 (1976).
- Jean Edward Smith, John Marshall: Definer Of A Nation, New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1996.
- Jean Edward Smith, The Constitution And American Foreign Policy, St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company, 1989.
- William Anderson LaBach, The Supreme Court Fails Its First Test: Chisholm v. Georgia, Saarbrücken, Germany, VDM Verlag, 2009.