Supreme Court Confirms State Sovereignty

By Felde, Jon | State Legislatures, May 1996 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Supreme Court Confirms State Sovereignty

Felde, Jon, State Legislatures

Dealing a blow to congressional authority, the high court in March reaffirmed states' immunity from citizen suits under the 11th Amendment.

Some might call it March Madness. Legislators around the country know that the starting five for state sovereignty on the Supreme Court are positioning themselves to dominate. It's becoming a familiar line-up: Rehnquist, O'Connor, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy.

In two recent seasons on the Court, they have created consternation among traditional advocates of federal power by deciding close cases for the states. After chipping away at the Commerce Clause for the first time in 60 years in last season's battle over guns in schools, the Court convinced doubters this spring by asserting the smothering defense of the 11th Amendment. Ruling in a contest over the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the Court blocked what many thought was a fair exercise of power by Congress.

The decision by the Supreme Court in Seminole Tribe of Florida vs. Florida handed down on March 27 held that Congress had acted beyond its constitutional authority when it allowed Indian tribes to sue states in federal court. As in United States vs. Lopez, the Court restricted congressional power under the Commerce Clause. According to the Seminole decision, Congress is not empowered under the Commerce Clause to strip states of the immunity extended to them under the 11th Amendment of the Constitution which protects states from being sued against their will.

"For the states, it's a very important case," declared Professor Vicki Jackson of Georgetown University Law Center. "But only time will tell how large its practical impact will be." Comparing its reasoning to Lopez, Jackson said that the Seminole case even more clearly reflects a change in direction for the Court.

State experiences under IGRA have been varied. The act requires states that allow gambling to negotiate with tribes to permit gaming on Indian lands. In some states, disputes ensued, not just between Indians and the state, but between governors and legislators. In other states, the act has been an opportunity to bridge cultures and to improve economic opportunities. In Florida, the Seminole tribe followed the procedure prescribed by IGRA and hauled the state into federal court. The tribe claimed that the state did not negotiate in good faith as required under the statute. Florida countered that the sovereign immunity protected by the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prevented it from being subjected to the lawsuit.

In its decision, the Court accepted reasoning presented to it in an amicus brief filed by the State and Local Legal Center. The brief asked the Court to reject IGRA's premise that states could be compelled to defend suits brought by tribes to enforce the compact negotiation provision.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Supreme Court Confirms State Sovereignty


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?