January 8, 1798 — The 11th Amendment is ratified today, which determined 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.
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).
Here’s the back story: During the Revolutionary War, a South Carolina merchant named Captain Robert Farquhar sold supplies to the State of Georgia on credit. Following the War, Georgia refused to pay Farquhar, asserting that he was a British loyalist. Farquhar later died, and the executor of his estate, South Carolinian Alexander Chisolm, sued the State of Georgia for the debt in the United States Supreme Court.
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.”
Words of Wisdom for January 8, 2017
“That the Senators from this State in the Congress of the United States be, and they hereby are instructed, and the Representatives requested to adopt … such amendments in the Constitution of the United States as will remove any clause or article of the said Constitution which can be construed to imply or justify a decision that a State is compellable to answer in any suit by an individual or individuals in any Court of the United States.”
— State reaction to the 11th Amendment. The Chisolm decision was unpopular. Arguments of Anti-Federalists from the 1787-89 ratification debates against centralized federal power were raised anew. If federal courts could order states to pay money, states would become mere federal agencies contrary to federalism principles.