Alden v. Maine

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ALDEN V. MAINE, 527 U.S. 706 (1999), one in a line of cases that expanded the concept of the states' sovereign immunity from suit and weakened Congress's power to subject states to federal regulatory authority.

When the U.S. Supreme Court held in Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) that federal courts could entertain damage suits against states by nonresidents, the states responded by securing ratification of the Eleventh Amendment, which prohibited such suits. Until the late-twentieth century, the Supreme Court respected Congress's power to subject states to suit for purposes of enforcing federal laws, as in Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer (1976), which upheld such power when exercised under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In Seminole Tribe v. Florida (1996), the Supreme Court held that the Eleventh Amendment prohibited Congress from opening federal courts to suits by individuals against the states when the basis of Congress's authority was the commerce clause of Article I. (The Court distinguished Fitzpatrick because Congress there acted under the Fourteenth Amendment, deemed a modification of the Eleventh Amendment.)

It was in that context that Alden held that Congress could not subject states to suit under federal laws in their own courts, either. Conceding that this holding was not justified by the Eleventh Amendment, Justice Anthony Kennedy held that the "Constitution's structure" required this unprecedented expansion of traditional understandings of sovereign immunity. He extolled an antebellum concept of state sovereignty vis-à-vis the federal government. Justice David Souter in dissent denied that the five-judge majority's vision of sovereign immunity had any historical support.


Braveman, Daan. "Enforcement of Federal Rights against States: Alden and Federalism Nonsense." American University Law Review 49 (2000): 611–657.

William M.Wiecek

See alsoSeminole Tribe v. Florida ; State Sovereignty .

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Alden v. Maine

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