Chisholm v. Georgia

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Chisholm v. Georgia
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 5, 1793
Decided February 18, 1793
Full case nameAlexander Chisholm, Executors v. Georgia
Citations2 U.S. 419 (more)
2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419; 1 L. Ed. 440; 1793 U.S. LEXIS 249
Prior historyOriginal action filed, U.S. Supreme Court, August, 1792
Subsequent historyNone on record
Article III, Section 2's grant of federal jurisdiction over suits "between a State and Citizens of another State" abrogated the States' sovereign immunity and granted federal courts the affirmative power to hear disputes between private citizens and States.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Jay
Associate Justices
James Wilson · William Cushing
John Blair · James Iredell
Case opinions
Seriatim opinionCushing
Seriatim opinionBlair
Seriatim opinionWilson
Seriatim opinionJay
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. III; Judiciary Act of 1789
Superseded by
U.S. Const. amend. XI

Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793), is considered the first great decision by the United States Supreme Court.[1] Given its early date, there was little available legal precedent in American law.[2] It was almost immediately superseded by the Eleventh Amendment.[3]

Background[change | change source]

In 1777, needed supplies for the Revolutionary War were purchased from a South Carolina businessman by the Executive Council of Georgia.[4] The supplies were delivered but Georgia never paid as they had promised.[4] After the businessman's death, Alexander Chisholm, the executor of his estate, took the case to court trying to collect from the state of Georgia.[4] Georgia maintained it was not under the jurisdiction of the federal courts.[4]

United States Attorney General Edmund Randolph argued the case for the plaintiff before the court. The defendant, Georgia, refused to appear, claiming that, as a sovereign state, it could not be sued without granting its consent to the suit.

The decision[change | change source]

In a four to one decision, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, with Chief Justice John Jay and associate justices John Blair, James Wilson, and William Cushing constituting the majority.[4] Only Justice Iredell dissented.[4] The court ruled that Article 3, Section 2, of the Constitution did not allow the states' sovereign immunity. In short, the Court ruled that Georgia was subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court.[5] It granted federal courts the power to hear disputes between private citizens and states.[5]

Effects[change | change source]

The resulting public sentiment in favor of states' rights led directly to the passage of the Eleventh Amendment in 1795.[6] In Hollingsworth v. Virginia (1798), the court ruled that pending court actions from Chisholm were dismissed due to passage of the Eleventh Amendment.[7] This removed federal jurisdiction in cases where citizens of one state or of foreign countries attempt to sue another state.[7]

Supreme Court decisions overturned by Constitutional Amendments[change | change source]

Chisholm is one of only four decisions by the Supreme Court that were overturned by an amendment to the United States Constitution.[8] The other three are:

Arguably, one more case could be added:[8]

  • Minor v. Happersett, which was indirectly overturned by the Nineteenth Amendment. In 1875, Virginia Minor, in trying to gain the right to vote for women, argued the Fourteenth Amendment gave citizens the right to vote.[9] The Court said it did not.[9] The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, 45 years later, gave women the right to vote.[9] However, Minor v. Happersett was still cited as case law into the 1960s in other right to vote issues.[9]

References[change | change source]

  1. Randy E. Barnet (2007). "The People or the State?: Chisholm v. Georgia and Popular Sovereignty". Georgetown University Law Center. Retrieved 1 March 2016., p. 1729
  2. 2 U.S. 419 (Full text of the decision at
  3. "Annotation 1 - Eleventh Amendment". FindLaw. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 "Chisholm v. Georgia". Oyez. IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Chisholm v. Georgia". 27 February 2013. Archived from the original on 26 March 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  6. "Chisholm v. Georgia - Significance". American Law and Legal Information. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution". The Free Dictionary. Farlex. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Lawrence K. Furbish (25 September 1996). "OLR Research Report". The Connecticut General Assembly. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 "Women's Fight for the Vote: The Nineteenth Amendment". Exploring Constitutional Conflicts. Retrieved 1 March 2016.