Coercing a State to Pay a Judgement Virginia v West Virginia

The Eleventh Amendment to the Federal Constitution postponed for over a century the settlement of the question whether a state of the United States can be coerced to pay a money judgment rendered against it in the Supreme Court of the United States. This it did by postponing the rendition of money judgments against a state. In 1793, it will be remembered, Chisholm v. Georgi4 had held that the provisions of Article III of the Constitution, extending the federal judicial power “to controversies * * * between a state and citizens of another state,” and giving the Supreme Court original jurisdiction “in all cases in which a state shall be a party,” authorized the Supreme Court to entertain an action in assumpsit brought against a state by a citizen of another state. The decision evoked such objections that the Eleventh Amendment speedily followed. 2 The amendment by its terms excluded from judicial cognizance only those suits against a state brought by citizens of another state. Nothing was said about suits brought against a state by one of its own citizens. But the federal jurisdiction based on the character of the parties did not include such suits. The only ground on which they might be entertained would be that the nature of the controversy gave rise to federal jurisdiction independently of the character of the parties. Strangely enough it was not until 189o that the Supreme Court was called upon to pass judgment on such an assertion of jurisdiction. Hans v. Louisian.3, decided in that year, held that the spirit of the Eleventh Amendment and the general principles of public law forbade a suit against a state by one of its own citizens, even though a federal question was involved.