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Chisholm v. Georgia (1793)

Last Updated: 2006

Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) is the first case involving a constitutional issue ever decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Chisholm, a citizen of South Carolina, brought suit in the U.S. Supreme Court against the State of Georgia to recover land the state had seized from his Tory client during the Revolutionary War. The suit was brought in the Supreme Court because Article III of the Constitution extends federal jurisdiction to “controversies between a State and citizens of another State” and specifies that the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction in cases in which a state shall be a party.

During the debate over ratification of the Constitution, some Anti-Federalists saw this provision of Article III as an attack on state sovereignty, but Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist No. 81 tried to assuage their fears by claiming that the federal courts could hear such cases only if a state gave its consent and waived its sovereign immunity, or if the state itself had originated the suit. The Court, however, disagreed with Hamilton and held that it had jurisdiction in such cases whether or not the state had given its consent to be sued. The decision raised a furor in the states, and in 1798 the Eleventh Amendment was added to the Constitution to provide that “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 or subjects of a foreign State.”

SEE ALSO: Eleventh Amendment