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Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida

Citation. 517 U.S. 44 (1996)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Seminole Tribe sued the state of Florida in federal court under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and Florida did not consent to the lawsuit.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Commerce Clause does not allow Congress to provide for lawsuits in federal court by Native American tribes against unconsenting states. Pennsylvania v. Union Gas Co. is overruled.


The Semiole Tribe sued the state of Florida, alleging that Florida refused to negotiate for inclusion of certain gaming activities in a tribal-state compact, as required by Florida under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Florida did not consent to the lawsuit.


Did the Indian Commerce Clause give Congress the power to pass the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act?


No, the Indian Commerce Clause did not give Congress the power to pass the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.


Justice Stevens

Justice Stevens argued that the majority’s opinion wrongfully prevented Congress from providing a federal forum for a broad range of actions against states.

Justice Souter

Justice Souter argued that the majority’s opinion was at odds with the view of the Framers of the Constitution that an act of the legislature could override common law. He also argued that the history and text of the Eleventh Amendment show that the Eleventh Amendment

The Eleventh Amendment provides that the federal judicial power does not extend to suits against citizens of one state by citizens of a differenct state, or by citizens of any foreign state.

is only a limit on suits subject to federal jurisdiction based on citizen-state diversity.


The Supreme Court cited Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak to support its finding that the Eleventh Amendment stands for a two-part presupposition: (1) that each state is a sovereign entity, and (2) that sovereign entities are not amenable to lawsuits without their consent. According to the Supreme Court, its jurisprudence over more than a century reaffirmed the principle that the judicial power established by the Constitution did not contemplate federal jurisdiction over unconsenting states.

To determine if Congress abrogated states’ sovereign immunity through the Act, the Supreme Court asked (1) whether Congress unequivocally expressed the intent to abrogate the immunity, and (2) whether Congress in the Act provided an unmistakably clear statement of its intent to abrogate. According to the Supreme Court, the two recognized circumstances in which Congress may abrogate states’ sovereign immunity are when the Fourteenth Amendment is implicated, Fitzpatrick, and when Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce was implicated, Pennsylvania v. Union Gas Co. According to the Supreme Court in the present case, the Indian Commerce Clause did not allow the same abrogation of states’ sovereign immunity that the Interstate Commerce Clause did, and Union Gas had to be overruled because it did not allow for that distinction between the two clauses. The Supreme Court dismissed the suit against Florida for a lack of jurisdiciton.

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