Chisholm v. Georgia/Separate Cushing

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Cushing, Justice.

The grand and principal question in this case is whether a State can, by the Federal Constitution, be sued by an individual citizen of another State?

The point turns not upon the law or practice of England, although perhaps it may be in some measure elucidated thereby, nor upon the law of any other country whatever, but upon the Constitution established by the people of the United States, and particularly upon the extent of powers given to the Federal judicial in the second section of the third article of the Constitution. It is declared that

the judicial power shall extend to all cases in law and equity arising under the Constitution, the laws of the United States, or treaties made or which shall be made under their authority; to all cases affecting ambassadors or other public ministers and consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; to controversies, to which the United [p467] States shall be a party; to controversies between two or more States and citizens of another State; between citizens of different States; between citizens of the same State claiming lands under grants of different States; and between a State and citizens thereof and foreign states, citizens or subjects.

The judicial power, then, is expressly extended to "controversies between a State and citizens of another State." When a citizen makes a demand against a State of which he is not a citizen, it is as really a controversy between a State and a citizen of another State as if such State made a demand against such citizen. The case, then, seems clearly to fall within the letter of the Constitution. It may be suggested that it could not be intended to subject a State to be a defendant, because it would effect the sovereignty of States. If that be the case, what shall we do with the immediate preceding clause; "controversies between two or more States," where a State must of necessity be defendant? If it was not the intent, in the very next clause also, that a State might be made defendant, why was it so expressed as naturally to lead to and comprehend that idea? Why was not an exception made, if one was intended?

Again, what are we to do with the last clause of the section of judicial powers, viz., "Controversies between a State, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states or citizens?" Here again, States must be suable or liable to be made defendants by this clause, which has a similar mode of language with the two other clauses I have remarked upon. For if the judicial power extends to a controversy between one of the United States and a foreign state, as the clause expresses, one of them must be defendant. And then, what becomes of the sovereignty of States as far as suing affects it? But although the words appear reciprocally to affect the State here and a foreign state, and put them on the same footing as far as may be, yet ingenuity may say that the State here may sue, but cannot be sued; but that the foreign state may be sued, but cannot sue. We may touch foreign sovereignties, but not our own. But I conceive the reason of the thing, as well as the words of the Constitution, tend to show that the Federal judicial power extends to a suit brought by a foreign state against any one of the United States. One design of the general government was for managing the great affairs of peace and war and the general defence, which were impossible to be conducted, with safety, by the States separately. Incident to these powers, and for preventing controversies between foreign powers or citizens from rising to extremities and to an appeal to the sword, a national tribunal was necessary amicably to decide them, and thus ward off such fatal public calamity. Thus, States at home and their citizens, and foreign states and their citizens, are put together without [p468] distinction upon the same footing, as far as may be, as to controversies between them. So also, with respect to controversies between a State and citizens of another State (at home) comparing all the clauses together, the remedy is reciprocal, the claim to justice equal. As controversies between State and State, and between a State and citizens of another State, might tend gradually to involve States in war and bloodshed, a disinterested civil tribunal was intended to be instituted to decide such controversies and preserve peace and friendship. Further, if a State is entitled to justice in the Federal court against a citizen of another State, why not such citizen against the State, when the same language equally comprehends both? The rights of individuals and the justice due to them are as dear and precious as those of States. Indeed, the latter are founded upon the former, and the great end and object of them must be to secure and support the rights of individuals, or else vain is government.

But still it may be insisted that this will reduce States to mere corporations, and take away all sovereignty. As to corporations, all States whatever are corporations or bodies politic. The only question is, what are their powers? As to individual States and the United States, the Constitution marks the boundary of powers. Whatever power is deposited with the Union by the people for their own necessary security is so far a curtailing of the power and prerogatives of States. This is, as it were, a self-evident proposition; at least it cannot be contested. Thus the power of declaring war, making peace, raising and supporting armies for public defence, levying duties, excises and taxes, if necessary, with many other powers, are lodged in Congress, and are a most essential abridgement of State sovereignty. Again, the restrictions upon States:

No State shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation, coin money, emit bills of credit, make any thing but gold and silver a tender in payment of debts, pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts;

these, with a number of others, are important restrictions of the power of States, and were thought necessary to maintain the Union and to establish some fundamental uniform principles of public justice throughout the whole Union. So that I think no argument of force can be taken from the sovereignty of States. Where it has been abridged, it was thought necessary for the greater indispensable good of the whole. If the Constitution is found inconvenient in practice in this or any other particular, it is well that a regular mode is pointed out for amendment. But, while it remains, all offices legislative, executive, and judicial, both of the States and of the Union, are bound by oath to support it. [p469]

One other objection has been suggested — that if a State may be sued by a citizen of another State, then the United States may be sued by a citizen of any of the States, or, in other words, by any of their citizens. If this be a necessary consequence, it must be so. I doubt the consequence, from the different wording of the different clauses, connected with other reasons. When speaking of the United States, the Constitution says "controversies to which the United States shall be a party," not controversies between the United States and any of their citizens. When speaking of States, it says, "controversies between two or more States; between a State and citizens of another State." As to reasons for citizens suing a different State which do not hold equally good for suing the United States, one may be that, as controversies between a State and citizens of another State might have a tendency to involve both States in contest, and perhaps in war, a common umpire to decide such controversies may have a tendency to prevent the mischief. That an object of this kind was had in view by the framers of the Constitution I have no doubt when I consider the clashing interfering laws which were made in the neighbouring States before the adoption of the Constitution, and some affecting the property of citizens of another State in a very different manner from that of their own citizens. But I do not think it necessary to enter fully into the question whether the United States are liable to be sued by an individual citizen in order to decide the point before us. Upon the whole, I am of opinion that the Constitution warrants a suit again a State by an individual citizen of another State.

A second question made in the case was whether the particular action of assumpsit could lie against a State? I think assumpsit will lie, if any suit, provided a State is capable of contracting.

The third question respects the competency of service, which I apprehend is good and proper, the service being by summons and notifying the suit to the Governor and the Attorney General; the Governor, who is the supreme executive magistrate and representative of the State, who is bound by oath to defend the State, and by the Constitution to give information to the legislature of all important matters which concern the interest of the State; the Attorney General, who is bound to defend the interest of the State in courts of Law.