Passed by Congress March 4, 1794. Ratified February 7, 1795. The 11th Amendment changed a portion of Article III, Section 2.
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1793 that two South Carolina men could sue and collect debts from the State of Georgia, states-rights advocates in Congress and the states pushed for what became the Eleventh Amendment in 1795. The amendment specifically prohibits federal courts from hearing cases in which a state is sued by an individual from another state or another country. Protecting states from certain types of legal liability is a concept known as “sovereign immunity.”
The amendment did not bar all lawsuits against states in federal courts. For example, as initially interpreted, the Eleventh Amendment did not bar suits against states when a matter of federal law was at issue nor did it prevent suits brought against a state by its own citizens. But more recently, a divided Supreme Court has held that states are immune from all lawsuits in federal courts unless they specifically agree to be sued.
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Added to the Constitution just a few years after the Bill of Rights, the Eleventh Amendment protects the states against lawsuits in federal courts by citizens of other states or a foreign nation. The Eleventh Amendment is the first constitutional amendment to specifically overturn a Supreme Court decision. Although the Eleventh Amendment was not very significant for many years, the Supreme Court has lately used the amendment in several cases to strike down federal laws that it believes overstep state power.
Linda R. Monk, J.D., is a constitutional scholar, journalist, and nationally award-winning author. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she twice received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, its highest honor for law-related media. Her books include The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution, Ordinary Americans: U.S. History Through the Eyes of Everyday People, and The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide. For more than 25 years, Dr. Monk has written commentary for newspapers nationwide, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and Huffington Post. In addition, she has appeared on MSNBC, C-SPAN, and NPR.