Young, Ex Parte 209 U.S. 123 (1908)

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YOUNG, EX PARTE 209 U.S. 123 (1908)

The question in this case—one of the most important of the present century—was whether a citizen might resort to a federal court to vindicate a constitutional right against state infringement and, pending a final judgment, obtain freedom from civil or criminal suits by a temporary injunction directed to an officer of the state. The Supreme Court held that, the eleventh amendment notwithstanding, a federal court might issue such an injunction.

A Minnesota statute fixed railroad rates and (to deter institution of a test case) made the officers and employees of the railroads personally liable to heavy fines and imprisonment if those rates were exceeded. astockholder ' s suit in equity was filed in federal Circuit Court to prevent enforcement of or compliance with the statute, on the ground that it violated the fourteenth amendment by depriving the railroads of property without due process of law. The federal court issued a temporary injunction restraining the state attorney general, Edward T. Young, from taking steps to enforce the statute. When Young defied the injunction the court found him in contempt and committed him to the custody of the United States marshal.

Young petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, contending that the suit for injunction was really against the state and that, under the Eleventh Amendment, the state could not be sued in federal court without its consent. The Court denied Young's petition, Justice john marshall harlan alone dissenting.

Justice rufus peckham, for the Court, argued that if the Minnesota law was unconstitutional, then Young, attempting to enforce it, was stripped of his official character and became merely a private individual using the state's name to further his own illegitimate end. Incongruously, the end Young was furthering was unconstitutional only because it involved state action. The "private wrong" was a fiction adopted by the Court to circumvent the Eleventh Amendment.

Congress reacted to the Young decision by passing a law (substantially repealed in 1976) requiring that federal court injunctions against enforcement of state laws alleged to be unconstitutional issue only from special three-judge courts and providing, in such cases, for direct appeal to the Supreme Court.

The doctrine of Young remains valid law today. Although it originally arose in connection with due process protection of economic liberty, the doctrine provides a remedy for state action infringing civil rights or civil liberties. But the doctrine of Young applies only to equitable relief, and the Eleventh Amendment remains bar to actions for monetary damages that will be paid out of the state treasury.

Dennis J. Mahoney

(see also: Edelman v. Jordan; Osborn v. Bank of the United States.)

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Young, Ex Parte 209 U.S. 123 (1908)

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