Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida

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In Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (1996), the U.S. Supreme Court held that Congress lacks power under Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution to abrogate the States' sovereign immunity from suits commenced or prosecuted in the federal courts.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote the opinion for the 5-4 Court, with the liberal wing in dissent. Chief Justice Rehnquist explained:

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act provides that an Indian tribe may conduct certain gaming activities only in conformance with a valid compact between the tribe and the State in which the gaming activities are located. 102 Stat. 2475, 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(1)(C). The Act, passed by Congress under the Indian Commerce Clause, U.S. Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 3, imposes upon the States a duty to negotiate in good faith with an Indian tribe toward the formation of a compact, § 2710(d)(3)(A), and authorizes a tribe to bring suit in federal court against a State in order to compel performance of that duty, § 2710(d)(7). We hold that notwithstanding Congress' clear intent to abrogate the States' sovereign immunity, the Indian Commerce Clause does not grant Congress that power, and therefore § 2710(d)(7) cannot grant jurisdiction over a State that does not consent to be sued. We further hold that the doctrine of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 52 L. Ed. 714, 28 S. Ct. 441 (1908), may not be used to enforce § 2710(d)(3) against a state official.

A subsequent decision, Alden v. Maine, extended this ruling to suits commenced or prosecuted in state courts.

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