108 U.S. 76 (1883)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided March 5th, 1883.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Wheeler H. Peckham for the State of New Hampshire.

Mr. Leslie W. Russell, Attorney-General of New York, Mr. David Dudley Field, and Mr. William A. Duer, for the State of New York. —

Mr. J.C. Egan, Attorney-General of Louisiana, and Mr. John A. Campbell for the State of Louisiana.

Mr. Peckham and Mr. Field replied.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE delivered the opinion of the court. After stating the case he continued:

The first question we have to settle is whether, upon the facts shown, these suits can be maintained in this court.

Art. III., sec. 2, of the Constitution provides that the judicial power of the United States shall extend to "controversies between two or more States," and "between a State and citizens of another State." By the same article and section it is also provided that in cases "in which a State shall be a party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction." By the Judiciary Act of 1789, c. 20, sec. 13, 1 Stat. 80, the Supreme Court was given "exclusive jurisdiction of all controversies of a civil nature, where a State is a party, except between a State and its citizens; and except also between a State and citizens of other States, or aliens, in which latter case it shall have original but not exclusive jurisdiction."

Such being the condition of the law, Alexander Chisholm, as executor of Robert Farquar, commenced an action of assumpsit in this court against the State of Georgia, and process was served on the governor and attorney-general. Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419. On the 11th of August, 1792, after the process was thus served on Mr. Randolph, the attorney-general of the United States, as counsel for the plaintiff, moved for a judgment by default on the fourth day of the next term, unless the State should then, after notice, show cause to the contrary. At the next term Mr. Ingersoll and Mr. Dallas presented a written remonstrance and protestation on behalf of the State against the exercise of jurisdiction, but in consequence of positive instructions they declined to argue the question. Mr. Randolph, thereupon, proceeded alone, and in opening his argument said, "I did not want the remonstrance of Georgia, to satisfy me that the motion which I have made is unpopular. Before the remonstrance was read, I had learnt from the acts of another State, whose will must always be dear to me, that she too condemned it."

On the 19th of February, 1793, the judgment of the court was announced, and the jurisdiction sustained, four of the justices being in favor of granting the motion and one against it. All the justices who heard the case filed opinions, some of which were very elaborate, and it is evident the subject received the most careful consideration. Mr. Justice Wilson in his opinion uses this language, p. 465:

"Another declared object (of the Constitution) is, `to establish justice.' This points, in a particular manner, to the judicial authority. And when we view this object in conjunction with the declaration, `that no State shall pass a law impairing the obligation of contracts,' we shall probably think, that this object points, in a particular manner, to the jurisdiction of the court over the several States. What good purpose could this constitutional provision secure, if a State might pass a law impairing the obligation of its own contracts; and be amenable for such a violation of right, to no controlling judiciary power?"

And Chief Justice Jay, p. 479:

"The extension of the judiciary power of the United States to such controversies, appears to me to be wise, because it is honest, and because it is useful. It is honest, because it provides for doing justice without respect to persons, and by securing individual citizens, as well as States, in their respective rights, performs the promise which every government makes to every free citizen, of equal justice and protection. It is useful, because it is honest, because it leaves not even the most obscure and friendless citizen without meàns of obtaining justice from a neighboring State; because it obviates occasions of quarrels between States on account of the claims of their respective citizens; because it recognizes and strongly rests on this great moral truth, that justice is the same whether due from one man or a million, or from a million to one man; because it teaches and greatly appreciates the value of our free republican national government, which places all our citizens on an equal footing, and enables each and every of them to obtain justice without any danger of being overborne with the might and number of their opponents; and because it brings into action, and enforces the great and glorious principle, that the people are the sovereign of this country, and consequently that fellow citizens and joint sovereigns cannot be degraded by appearing with each other in their own courts to have their controversies determined."

Prior to this decision the public discussions had been confined to the power of the court, under the Constitution, to entertain a suit in favor of a citizen against a State; many of the leading members of the convention arguing, with great force, against it. As soon as the decision was announced, steps were taken to obtain an amendment of the Constitution withdrawing jurisdiction. About the time the judgment was rendered, another suit was begun against Massachusetts, and process served on John Hancock, the governor. This led to the convening of the general court of that commonwealth, which passed resolutions instructing the senators and requesting the members of the House of Representatives from the State "to adopt the most speedy and effectual measures in their power to obtain such amendments in the Constitution of the United States as will remove any clause or articles of the said Constitution, which can be construed to imply or justify a decision that a State is compellable to answer in any suit by an individual or individuals in any courts of the United States." Other States also took active measures in the same direction, and, soon after the next Congress came together, the eleventh amendment to the Constitution was proposed, and afterwards ratified by the requisite number of States, so as to go into effect on the 8th of January, 1798. That amendment is as follows:

"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 and subjects of any foreign State."

Under the operation of this amendment the actual owners of the bonds and coupons held by New Hampshire and New York are precluded from prosecuting these suits in their own names. The real question, therefore, is whether they can sue in the name of their respective States, after getting the consent of the State, or, to put it in another way, whether a State can allow the use of its name in such a suit for the benefit of one of its citizens.

The language of the amendment is, in effect, that the judicial power of the United States shall not extend to any suit commenced or prosecuted by citizens of one State against another State. No one can look at the pleadings and testimony in these cases without being satisfied, beyond all doubt, that they were in legal effect commenced, and are now prosecuted, solely by the owners of the bonds and coupons. In New Hampshire, before the attorney-general is authorized to begin a suit, the owner of the bond must deposit with him a sum of money sufficient to pay all costs and expenses. No compromise can be effected except with the consent of the owner of the claim. No money of the State can be expended in the proceeding, but all expenses must be borne by the owner, who may associate with the attorney-general such counsel as he chooses, the State being in no way responsible for fees. All moneys collected are to be kept by the attorney-general, as special trustee, separate and apart from the other moneys of the State, and paid over by him to the owner of the claim, after deducting all expenses incurred not before that time paid by the owner. The bill, although signed by the attorney-general, is also signed, and was evidently drawn, by the same counsel who prosecuted the suits for the bondholders in Louisiana, and it is manifested in many ways that both the State and the attorney-general are only nominal actors in the proceeding. The bond owner, whoever he may be, was the promoter and is the manager of the suit. He pays the expenses, is the only one authorized to conclude a compromise, and if any money is ever collected, it must be paid to him without even passing through the form of getting into the treasury of the State.

In New York no special provision is made for compromise or the employment of additional counsel, but the bondholder is required to secure and pay all expenses and gets all the money that is recovered. This State, as well as New Hampshire, is nothing more nor less than a mere collecting agent of the owners of the bonds and coupons, and while the suits are in the names of the States, they are under the actual control of individual citizens, and are prosecuted and carried on altogether by and for them.

It is contended, however, that, notwithstanding the prohibition of the amendment, the States may prosecute the suits, because, as the "sovereign and trustee of its citizens," a State is "clothed with the right and faculty of making an imperative demand upon another independent State for the payment of debts which it owes to citizens of the former." There is no doubt but one nation may, if it sees fit, demand of another nation the payment of a debt owing by the latter to a citizen of the former. Such power is well recognized as an incident of national sovereignty, but it involves also the national powers of levying war and making treaties. As was said in the United States v. Diekelman, 92 U.S. 520, if a sovereign assumes the responsibility of presenting the claim of one of his subjects against another sovereign, the prosecution will be "as one nation proceeds against another, not by suit in the courts, as of right, but by diplomatic negotiation, or, if need be, by war."

All the rights of the States as independent nations were surrendered to the United States. The States are not nations, either as between themselves or towards foreign nations. They are sovereign within their spheres, but their sovereignty stops short of nationality. Their political status at home and abroad is that of States in the United States. They can neither make war nor peace without the consent of the national government. Neither can they, except with like consent, "enter into any agreement or compact with another State." Art. 1, sec. 10, cl. 3.

But it is said that, even if a State, as sovereign trustee for its citizens, did surrender to the national government its power of prosecuting the claims of its citizens against another State by force, it got in lieu the constitutional right of suit in the national courts. There is no principle of international law which makes it the duty of one nation to assume the collection of the claims of its citizens against another nation, if the citizens themselves have ample means of redress without the intervention of their government. Indeed, Sir Robert Phillimore says, in his Commentaries on International law, vol. II., 2d ed., page 12:

"As a general rule, the proposition of Martens seems to be correct, that the foreigner can only claim to be put on the same footing as the native creditor of the State."

Whether this be in all respects true or not, it is clear that no nation ought to interfere, except under very extraordinary circumstances, if the citizens can themselves employ the identical and only remedy open to the government if it takes on itself the burden of the prosecution. Under the Constitution, as it was originally construed, a citizen of one State could sue another State in the courts of the United States for himself, and obtain the same relief his State could get for him if it should sue. Certainly, when he can sue for himself, there is no necessity for power in his State to sue in his behalf, and we cannot believe it was the intention of the framers of the Constitution to allow both remedies in such a case. Therefore, the special remedy, granted to the citizen himself, must be deemed to have been the only remedy the citizen of one State could have under the Constitution against another State for the redress of his grievances, except such as the delinquent State saw fit itself to grant. In other words, the giving of the direct remedy to the citizen himself was equivalent to taking away any indirect remedy he might otherwise have claimed, through the intervention of his State, upon any principle of the law of nations. It follows that when the amendment took away the special remedy there was no other left. Nothing was added to the Constitution by what was thus done. No power taken away by the grant of the special remedy was restored by the amendment. The effect of the amendment was simply to revoke the new right that had been given, and leave the limitations to stand as they were. In the argument of the opinions filed by the several justices in the Chisholm case, there is not even an intimation that if the citizen could not sue, his State could sue for him. The evident purpose of the amendment, so promptly proposed and finally adopted, was to prohibit all suits against a State by or for citizens of other States, or aliens, without the consent of the State to be sued, and, in our opinion, one State cannot create a controversy with another State, within the meaning of that term as used in the judicial clauses of the Constitution, by assuming the prosecution of debts owing by the other State to its citizens. Such being the case we are satisfied that we are prohibited, both by the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, from entertaining these suits, and

The bill in each case is dismissed.


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