Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1; 10 S. Ct. 504; 33 L. Ed. 842 (1890)

Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1; 10 S. Ct. 504; 33 L. Ed. 842 (1890)

Facts—Hans, a citizen of Louisiana, brought a suit in a Circuit Court of the United States against the state in order to recover money invested in state bonds and the interest thereupon. Alleging that the state had violated its contract, Hans brought his case under the provision in Article III extending federal jurisdiction to all cases arising under the laws of the United States. Louisiana argued that it could not be sued by one of its citizens without its consent.

Question—Does the Eleventh Amendment preclude a state from being sued by one of its citizens without its consent?


ReasonsJ. Bradley (9–0). Judicial decisions interpreting the Eleventh Amendment have established that a state cannot be sued by a citizen of another state or by a foreign state, but the Eleventh Amendment does not specifically address whether a state can be sued by one of its own citizens. Although Article III did not originally preclude suits by citizens of other states against a state, the decision in Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) permitting such suits “created . . . a shock of surprise throughout the country” that led to the adoption of the Eleventh Amendment. In adopting the Eleventh Amendment, the nation returned to the pre-Chisholm understanding, argued in dissent by

J. Iredell, that the nature of state sovereignty precluded a state from being sued without its own consent. This intention had been demonstrated by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 84 and by James Madison and John Marshall in debates over ratification of the Constitution. It is inappropriate to cite the “letter” of the Eleventh Amendment to preclude its object and to recognize “the cognizance of suits and actions unknown to the law, and forbidden by the law.” The grant of jurisdiction in Article III was not designed to sidestep the exception that sovereign states cannot be sued without their consent. The fact that Congress conferred concurrent jurisdiction on the states and the nation in certain cases indicated that Congress did not intend to invest federal courts with new jurisdiction but only with jurisdiction that was already recognized. It is not the Court’s responsibility to examine “the reason or expediency of the rule which exempts a sovereign State from prosecution in a court of justice at the suit of individuals.” “It is enough for us to declare its existence.”

J. Harlan’s concurrence noted his objection to some of the Court’s comments about the Court’s decision in Chisholm v. Georgia.

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