Chisholm v. Georgia

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{law, state, case}

Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419 (1793), is considered the first United States Supreme Court case of significance and impact. Given its date, there is little available legal precedent (particularly in American law).[1]


Background of the case

In 1792 in South Carolina, Alexander Chisholm, the executor of the estate of Robert Farquhar, attempted to sue the state of Georgia in the Supreme Court over payments due him for goods that Farquhar had supplied Georgia during the American Revolutionary War. United States Attorney General Edmund Randolph argued the case for the plaintiff before the Court. The defendant, Georgia, refused to appear, claiming that, as a "sovereign" state, it could not be sued without granting its consent to the suit.

The Court’s decision

In a 4 to 1 decision, the Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, with Chief Justice John Jay and Associate Justices John Blair, James Wilson, and William Cushing constituting the majority; only Justice Iredell dissented. (In that time, there was no "opinion of the Court" or "majority opinion"; the Justices delivered their opinions individually and in ascending order of seniority.) The Court argued that Article 3, Section 2, of the Constitution abrogated the States’ sovereign immunity and granted federal courts the affirmative power to hear disputes between private citizens and States.

Subsequent developments

Mostly because of Chisholm v. Georgia, the Eleventh Amendment was ratified in 1795. This removed federal jurisdiction in cases where citizens of one state or of foreign countries attempt to sue another state. However, citizens of one state or of foreign countries can still use the Federal courts if the state consents to be sued, or if Congress, pursuant to a valid exercise of Fourteenth Amendment remedial powers, abrogates the states’ immunity from suit. See, e.g., Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445 (1976).

See also

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