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Hans v. Louisiana

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Hans (Plaintiff) attempted to sue Louisiana (Defendant) in federal court on a claim arising under federal law.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A citizen of a state may not sue that state in federal court on a claim arising under federal law unless the state consents.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff, a Louisiana citizen, sued Defendant in federal court. The claim arose over bonds issued by the state and an 1875 statue had given federal courts jurisdiction over cases involving these claims. Plaintiff lost and the Supreme Court granted certiorari. (The remainder of the factual background and procedural posture is omitted from the casebook). 

    Issue.

    May a citizen of a state sue the state in federal court on a claim arising under federal law without the state’s consent?

    Held.

    (Bradley, J.) No. A citizen of a state may not sue that state in federal court on a claim arising under federal law unless the state consents. A reading of the Eleventh Amendment would seem to suggest the opposite outcome as that Amendment only prohibits federal suits against states brought by noncitizens. However, this reading would result in a situation where a state can be sued in federal court by its own citizens but not by citizens of other states or countries. Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793) was incorrectly decided and overruled by the Eleventh Amendment. States have sovereign immunity from suits brought by individuals.

    Concurrence.

    (Harlan, J.) Chisholm v. Georgia was correctly decided based upon the Constitution as it was then written. The majority’s holding is correct.

    Discussion.

    This decision has been used as the basis for several decisions further expanding sovereign immunity. This line of cases is criticized as making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an individual to challenge a state on violations of the Constitution or other federal law.


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