Alden v. Maine

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In Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706 (1999), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the powers delegated to Congress under Article 1 of the United States Constitution do not include the power to subject nonconsenting States to private suits for damages in state courts.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the 5-4 Court, with the liberal wing dissenting. He held that the State of Maine has not consented to suits for overtime pay and liquidated damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and on that basis affirmed the judgment sustaining dismissal of the suit.

Justice Kennedy's placed the basis for sovereign immunity by the states in federalism:


While the constitutional principle of sovereign immunity does pose a bar to federal jurisdiction over suits against nonconsenting States, this is not the only structural basis of sovereign immunity implicit in the constitutional design. Rather, "there is also the postulate that States of the Union, still possessing attributes of sovereignty, shall be immune from suits, without their consent, save where there has been 'a surrender of this immunity in the plan of the convention.'" (inner quotation is to The Federalist No. 81, at 487). This separate and distinct structural principle is not directly related to the scope of the judicial power established by Article III, but inheres in the system of federalism established by the Constitution. In exercising its Article I powers Congress may subject the States to private suits in their own courts only if there is "compelling evidence" that the States were required to surrender this power to Congress pursuant to the constitutional design.

527 U.S. at 730-731 (citations omitted except for The Federalist).

Justice David Souter wrote a dissent, which was joined by three other Justices from the liberal side of the Court.

This decision extended the ruling of Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida to state courts.

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