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No. 94-1474


on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

[June 23, 1997]

Justice Souter, with whom Justice Stevens, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Breyer join, dissenting.

Congress has implemented the Constitution's grant of federal question jurisdiction by authorizing federal courts to enforce rights arising under the Constitution and federal law. The federal courts have an obligation to exercise that jurisdiction, and in doing so have applied the doctrine of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), that in the absence of some congressional limitation a federal court may entertain an individual's suit to enjoin a state officer from official action that violates federal law. The Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho claims that officers of the State of Idaho are acting to regulate land that belongs to the Tribe under federal law, and the Tribe prays for declaratory and injunctive relief to halt the regulation as an ongoing violation of that law. [n.1] The Tribe's suit falls squarely within the Young doctrine, and the District Court had an obligation to hear it.

The response of today's Court, however, is to deny that obligation. The principal opinion would redefine the doctrine, from a rule recognizing federal jurisdiction to enjoin state officers from violating federal law to a principle of equitable discretion as much at odds with Young's result as with the foundational doctrine on which Young rests. Justice O'Connor charts a more limited course that wisely rejects the lead opinion's call for federal jurisdiction contingent on case by case balancing, but sets forth a rule denying jurisdiction here on Eleventh Amendment grounds because the Tribe's suit is said to be indistinguishable from one to quiet title to the submerged lands and could leave the State not only without possession of the lands but without present opportunity to regulate them under state law. The Tribe's suit, however, is no more (or less) against the State than any of the claims brought in our prior cases applying Young, and the State's regulatory authority would be no more imposed upon than the State's authority in Young itself.

While there is reason for great satisfaction that Justice O'Connor's view is the controlling one, it is still true that the effect of the two opinions is to redefine and reduce the substance of federal subject matter jurisdiction to vindicate federal rights. And it is indeed substance, not form, that is here at stake, for this case comes on the heels of last Term's fundamentally erroneous decision in Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U. S. ___ (1996). Consequently, if an individual or Indian tribe may not enter a federal court to obtain relief against state officers for violating federally derived property rights, that private plaintiff simply may seek no relief in a federal forum.

I respectfully dissent.

In Seminole Tribe, the Court declared Ex parte Young inapplicable to the case before it, having inferred that Congress meant to leave no such avenue of relief open to those claiming federal rights under the statute then under consideration. See Seminole Tribe, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 28-31). The Court left the basic tenets of Ex parte Young untouched, however, see Seminole Tribe, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 26-28, nn. 14, 16, 17), and Congress remained free to remove any bar to the invocation of Young, even in a successive suit by petitioners in Seminole Tribe itself.

When Congress has not so displaced the Young doctrine, a federal court has jurisdiction in an individual's action against state officers so long as two conditions are met. The plaintiff must allege that the officers are acting in violation of federal law, [n.2] see Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 106 (1984), and must seek prospective relief to address an ongoing violation, not compensation or other retrospective relief for violations past. See Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 68 (1985); Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 346-349 (1979); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 664-671 (1974). The Tribe's claim satisfies each condition.

The sources of federal law invoked by the Tribe go back to November 8, 1873, when President Grant issued an Executive Order establishing a reservation in the Idaho Territory for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. See 1 C. Kappler, Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties 837 (1904). The Tribe claims that the Executive Order, later ratified by Congress, see Act of Mar. 3, 1891, ch. 543,§19, 26 Stat. 1026-1029, gave it the beneficial interest, subject only to the trusteeship of the United States, in the beds and banks of all navigable water within the reservation, including the submerged land under Lake Coeur d'Alene. See Complaint ¶¶19, 24. [n.3] In complaining that regulatory actions by the petitioner state officers violate the Tribe's right to exclusive use and occupancy of the submerged lands, the Tribe thus claims that they are acting in violation of controlling federal legal authority; since such federal authority happens to be necessary for any valid regulation of Lake Coeur d'Alene's submerged lands and navigable waters, the Tribe in effect claims that petitioners are acting ultra vires as a matter of federal law. Petitioners join issue on just this point, in alleging that the submerged lands were not conveyed by the Executive Order or its ratification but instead passed to Idaho under the equal footing doctrine when Idaho became a State in 1890. Brief for Petitioners 14. While petitioners, as members of the state board of land commissioners, claim to be implementing the law of Idaho in regulating the submerged lands and waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene as a recreational area and health resort, see Idaho Code §§58-104(9) (Supp. 1996), 67-4304 (1989), 67-4305 (Supp. 1996), they agree with the Tribe that title to the submerged lands is controlled by federal law. See Brief for Petitioners 25. The Tribe asked the District Court to enjoin the state officers from "taking any actions or enforcing any State statutes, ordinances, regulations, customs or usages which cause [the Tribe and its members] to be deprived of their rights and privileges of exclusive use and occupancy to all beds and banks of all navigable water courses and all waters within the 1873 Coeur d'Alene Reservation boundaries." Complaint ¶35.

This a perfect example of a suit for relief cognizable under Ex parte Young. Young described the officials' act on the basis of which jurisdiction was found in that case "simply [as] an illegal act upon the part of a state official in attempting by the use of the name of the State to enforce a legislative enactment which is void because unconstitutional. . . . The State has no power to impart to him any immunity from responsibility to the supreme authority of the United States." Ex parte Young, 209 U. S., at 159-160. Later cases have made it clear that a state official's act is also ultra vires for purposes of the Young doctrine when it violates other valid federal law. See, e.g., Larson v. Domestic and Foreign Commerce Corp., 337 U.S. 682, 698-699 (1949). Such an illegal act amounting to ultra vires action is, of course, what the Tribe claims here.

This case, to be sure, differs from Young in two respects, but neither of them affects the Tribe's jurisdictional position. First, the Tribe's claim to have federal law on its side rests upon combined executive and congressional action, not the National Constitution. If the Tribe is right that the National Government conveyed the submerged lands to the Tribe prior to Idaho's admission to statehood, the officials' action is just as devoid of any valid basis as the acts found to be void for unconstitutionality in Young. See Florida Dept. of State v. Treasure Salvors, Inc., 458 U.S. 670, 675-676, and n. 5, 695-697 (1982) (opinion of Stevens, J.) (officer suit may proceed where state officers are acting in violation of federal statutory law); see also Larson, supra, at 698-699 .

The second difference from Young is that this case turns on federal law governing passage of title to property; but a government's assumption of title to property is no different from its assumption of any state authority that it may ultimately turn out not to have. That a claim involves title is thus irrelevant under Young and has never been treated otherwise. Not only has a title claim never displaced Young so as to render state officials immune to suit by a rival claimant, see, e.g., Treasure Salvors, supra, but long before Young had even been decided United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196 (1882), held federal officers to be subject to a possessory action for land claimed by the United States on the basis of federal law. Since for purposes of Young Idaho and its officials claiming title under federal law are in the same posture as the United States and its officers in Lee, the appropriate analysis is the one exemplified in that case. See also Tindal v. Wesley, 167 U.S. 204, 213 (1897) ("[I]t cannot be doubted that the question whether a particular suit is one against the State, within the meaning of the Constitution, must depend upon the same principles that determine whether a particular suit is one against the United States.").

In Lee, the Court held there was federal jurisdiction over an ejectment suit brought by General Lee's son to oust federal officers from property seized by the United States for alleged nonpayment of taxes and held under an order of the Secretary of War. The defending officials claimed the "absolute immunity from judicial inquiry of every one who asserts authority from the executive branch of the government, however clear it may be made that the executive possessed no such power," Lee, supra, at 220 (emphasis in original), but they lost. The Court rejected the proposition that possession of property by federal officers on behalf of the United States sufficed to immunize the officers from a possessory action brought by a private citizen. [n.4] Lee's suit is seen today as deciding a claim that the officials involved were acting wholly without authority as a matter of constitutional law, since they were barred from dealing with the property by the Government's failure to pay the just compensation required by the Fifth Amendment. See Larson, supra, at 697.

Lee thus illustrates that an issue of property title is no different from any other legal or constitutional matter that may have to be resolved in deciding whether the officer of an immune government is so acting beyond his authority as to be amenable to suit without necessarily implicating his government. See Treasure Salvors, supra, at 676, 695-697 (opinion of Stevens, J.) (like this case, involving state officials' reliance on federal law); see also Tindal, supra, at 222. [n.5] Indeed, the decisions of this Court have so held or assumed as far back as the time of Chief Justice Marshall's statement in United States v. Peters, 5 Cranch 115, 139-140 (1809), that "it certainly can never be alleged, that a mere suggestion of title in a state to property, in possession of any individual, must arrest the proceedings of the court, and prevent their looking into the suggestion, and examining the validity of the title." The contrary rule, Lee later explained, would "sanctio[n] a tyranny which has no existence in the monarchies of Europe, nor in any other government which has a just claim to well regulated liberty and the protection of personal rights." Lee, supra, at 221. Thus did the Chief Justice foresee that governmental officials are not any the less amenable to suit for relying on their government's claim to property title, and no decision before today's would have turned the envious eyes of the old monarchs toward Idaho.

The second condition for applying Young is that relief be prospective, not retrospective, a bar to future violations of federal law, not recompense for past mistakes. See Edelman, 415 U. S., at 664-666. The present complaint asks for just such relief by seeking to enjoin the State's sport and recreational regulation of the water covering the lands. It asks for no damages for past infringement of the tribal interest asserted and no accounting for fees previously collected by the State in the course of its regulatory oversight. While there would, of course, be significant consequences to the State if the Tribe should prevail on the merits, that will be true whenever Young applies. In Young itself, the State was left unable to enforce statutory railroad rate regulation or collect penalties from violators, and the Young doctrine has been held to apply even when compliance by the defendant officials will create a charge on the state treasury. The relief does not cease to be forward looking, nor is the suit transformed into one against the State itself, so long as its burden upon the State is merely a "necessary consequence of [the officers'] compliance in the future with a substantive federal question determination." Edelman, supra, at 668. See also Quern v. Jordan, 440 U. S., at 337 (a "federal court, consistent with the Eleventh Amendment, may enjoin state officials to conform their future conduct to the requirements of federal law, even though such an injunction may have an ancillary effect on the state treasury"). However burdensome it may be to the State when its officers are ordered to stop violating federal law, it is not the cost of future compliance with federal law, but its character as such, that counts. See, e.g., Quern, supra, at 347-349; Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267, 288-290 (1977); Edelman, supra, at 664-668. [n.6] In this case, of course, the State has not identified any charge on its funds that might be comparable to the cost of compliance approved in Edelman: the consequence of any success the Tribe might ultimately have would simply be the end of a regulatory regime (including some fee income) that federal law would show the officers to lack any authority to maintain on the State's behalf.

What this straightforward analysis thus shows, precedent confirms. We have already seen that since the time of Young, as well as long before it, this Court has consistently held that a public officer's assertion of property title in the name of a government immune to suit cannot defeat federal jurisdiction over an individual's suit to be rid of interference with the property rights he claims. See, e.g., Treasure Salvors, 458 U. S., at 685-690 (opinion of Stevens, J.); Tindal, 167 U. S., at 221-223; Stanley v. Schwalby, 162 U.S. 255, 270-271 (1896); Lee, 106 U. S., at 210. By a parity of reasoning, we have of course drawn the jurisdictional line short of ultimately quieting title (which would run directly against the State itself as putative title holder and not against its officers) or limiting the affected government in any subsequent quiet title action. "It is a judgment to the effect only that, as between the plaintiff and the defendants, the former is entitled to possession of the property in question, the latter having shown no valid authority to withhold possession from the plaintiff." Tindal, supra, at 223; see also Lee, supra, at 222. If dissatisfied with a federal court's interpretation of federal law in a suit against its officers, a State may itself subsequently "bring any action that may be appropriate to establish and protect whatever claim it has to the premises in dispute." [n.7] Tindal, supra, at 223; Lee, supra, at 223 ("the Government is always at liberty, notwithstanding any such judgment, to avail itself of all the remedies which the law allows to every person, natural or artificial, for the vindication and assertion of its rights"). See also Treasure Salvors, supra, at 688 (opinion of Stevens, J.). [n.8] This, of course, is a right that a State always has after an official has lost a Young suit, whatever its particular subject.

In sum, the Tribe seeks no damages or restitution to compensate for the State's exercise of authority over the land, nor does it ask for rescission of a past transfer of property. It says that state officers, by their continuing regulation, are committing an ongoing violation of federal law that may be halted by an injunction against the state officers. If the Tribe were to prove what it claims, it would establish "precisely the type of continuing violation for which a remedy may permissibly be fashioned under Young." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 282 (1986).

The first of the two points common to the opinions displacing Ex parte Young here is that this case pierces Young's distinction between State and officer because the relief sought would be indistinguishable in practice from a decree quieting title. See ante, at 19-20 ("Tribe's suit is the functional equivalent of a quiet title which implicates special sovereignty interests"); id., at 20 (relief sought is close to the "functional equivalent of a quiet title"); ante, at 2 (opinion of O'Connor, J.) ("suit is the functional equivalent of an action to quiet its title"). If this argument were to the point it would, to begin with, render erroneous the holdings in Treasure Salvors, for example, and Lee (as interpreted by Larson, 337 U. S., at 696-697). [n.9] In each of those cases, too, the individual plaintiffs' success against state officers was an aspersionon the government's claim of title. But a consideration of the alternatives shows why such aspersion was rightly accepted as a fair price to pay for the jurisdiction to consider individual claims of federal right in those two title cases, as it has been accepted generally. The one alternative, of settling the matter of title by compelling the State itself to appear in a federal question suit, is barred by Eleventh Amendment doctrine. See, e.g., Seminole Tribe, 517 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 7-8); Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978); Chandler v. Dix, 194 U.S. 590, 591 (1904). The other, of leaving an individual powerless to seek any federal remedy for violation of a federal right, would deplete the federal judicial power to a point the Framers could not possibly have intended, given a history of officer liability riding tandem with sovereign immunity extending back to the Middle Ages. See Jaffe, Suits Against Governments and Officers: Sovereign Immunity, 77 Harv. L. Rev. 1, 18 (1963); Erlich, No. XII: Proceedings Against the Crown (1216-1377) pp. 28-29, in 6 Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History (P. Vinogradoff ed. 1921). The holdings in Treasure Salvors and Lee, like the holding that should obtain here, represent a line drawn short of such an extreme, and if the Court may curse it as formalistic so may any line be cursed that must be drawn somewhere between unacceptable extremes. In the title cases cited, as in any other such suit, the State could ultimately settle its title by choosing to litigate the disputed title once and for all; in most cases of course, the State may choose its own forum, though in this instance it would need the permission of the United States, see n. 8, supra. (As that note previously explained, the fact that the United States is required to consent to such a suit against an Indian tribe has nothing to do with the doctrinal basis of Young and is hardly an inequity to the States when viewed historically. See n. 11, infra). The line is a fair via media between the extremes.

What is equally significant, finally, is that an officer suit implicating title is no more or less the "functional equivalent" of an action against the government than any other Young suit. States are functionally barred from imposing a railroad rate found unconstitutional when enforced by a state officer; States are functionally barred from withholding welfare benefits when their officers have violated federal law on timely payment; States are functionally barred from locking up prisoners whom their wardens are told to release. There is nothing unique about the consequences of an officer suit involving title, and if the Court's reasoning were good in a title case it would be good in any Young case.

The second joint reason that commands a majority turns on the fact that something more than mere title would be affected if the Tribe were to prevail. As the principal opinion puts it, "[t]he suit seeks, in effect, a determination that the lands in question are not even within the regulatory jurisdiction of the State," ante, at 20, and state ownership of submerged lands "uniquely implicate[s] sovereign interests," ante, at 22, such that the injunction sought by the Tribe would have an unusual effect on the State's "dignity and status," ante, at 26. This is the same reason that Justice O'Connor gives for concluding that Lee and Tindal are not controlling here. See ante, at 3-4 (opinion of O'Connor, J.). She points out that Lee and Tindal involved claims to land that remained subject to state regulation even after the government officers were held to lack possessory authority, while here, if the Tribe were to prevail, no such regulatory power would be retained given that the submerged lands would no longer be "within Idaho's sovereign jurisdiction." Ante, at 2 (opinion of O'Connor, J.).

While this point is no doubt correct, it has no bearing on Young's application in this case. The relevant enquiry, as noted, is whether the state officers are exercising ultra vires authority over the disputed submerged lands. If they are, a federal court may enjoin their actions, even though such a ruling would place the land beyond Idaho's regulatory jurisdiction and accordingly deny state officers regulatory authority. Idaho indisputably has a significant sovereign interest in regulating its submerged lands, see Utah Div. of State Lands v. United States, 482 U.S. 193, 195 (1987), but it has no legitimate sovereign interest in regulating submerged lands located outside state borders.

If, indeed, there were any doubt that claims implicating state regulatory jurisdiction are as much subject to Young as cases contesting the possession of property, the facts of Ex parte Young itself would suffice to place that doubt to rest. Young was a suit to enjoin a State's Attorney General from enforcing a state statute regulating railroad rates and threatening violators with heavy sanctions. One would have difficulty imagining a state activity any more central to state sovereignty than such economic regulation or any more expressive of its governmental character than the provision for heavy fines. A State obliged to choose between power to regulate a lake and lake bed on an Indian reservation and power to regulate economic affairs and punish offenders would not (knowing nothing more) choose the lake. Implications for regulatory jurisdiction, therefore, do nothing to displace Ex parte Young.

The remaining points of exception are, as I understand, confined to the principal opinion.

That opinion suggests that the line between officer and State may be dissolved for jurisdictional purposes because the state officials here were acting in accordance with state law in their administration of the disputed land: if state law purports to authorize the acts complained of, they are not unauthorized for purposes of discerning the line between officials and their State under the Eleventh Amendment. Ante, at 20-21, 25.

If compliance with state law authority were a defense to a Young suit, however, there would be precious few Young suits. State law compliance is in fact a characteristic circumstance of most cases maintained under Young, see, e.g., Edelman, 415 U. S., at 655, which are brought not because the defendant officials are mavericks under state law but because the state law is claimed to violate federal law made controlling by the Supremacy Clause. Young, accordingly, made it clear from the start that in a federal question suit against a state official, action in violation of valid federal law was necessarily beyond the scope of any official authority, thus rendering the official an individual for Eleventh Amendment purposes and thus obviating an encroachment on the State's immunity. Ex parte Young, 209 U. S., at 159-160; see also Pennhurst, 465 U. S., at 102-103, 105; Quern, 440 U. S., at 337; Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 237 (1974) (noting that since Young, "it has been settled that the Eleventh Amendment provides no shield for a state official confronted by a claim that he had deprived another of a federal right under the color of state law").

In this case, indeed, the allusion to conformity with state law is doubly misplaced, for it is common ground here that state law is irrelevant if under federal law the combined executive and congressional action vested title to the submerged lands in the Tribe. Each party is claiming under federal law, and the only issue is whether the regulatory action by the state officials is authorized or ultra vires as judged under that federal law. The jurisdictional question is posed, in other words, just as if this were a suit against a federal officer, as in Larson, 337 U. S., at 701-702, and this case is essentially like Treasure Salvors, 458 U. S., at 675-676, and n. 5, 695-697, in which the outcome turned directly on title under federal law.

The principal opinion's next reason for displacing Young rests on its view that the declaratory and injunctive relief the Tribe seeks is functionally equivalent to a money judgment and thus would amount to an impermissibly retrospective remedy. "[I]f the Tribe were to prevail, Idaho's sovereign interest in its lands and waters would be affected in a degree fully as intrusive as almost any conceivable retroactive levy upon funds in its Treasury." Ante, at 26. The principal opinion's assumption, in other words, is that intrusiveness is retrospectivity, an equation false to customary language usage and antithetical under extant Eleventh Amendment doctrine to probably every case decided under Ex parte Young, including the original. The exercise of Young jurisdiction for vindicating individual federal rights is necessarily "intrusive," simply because state officials sued under Young are almost always doing exactly what their States' legislative and administrative authorities intend them to do. The state officers in Treasure Salvors were expected to secure 25 percent of the treasure salvaged from a sunken galleon for the State of Florida; an order to bring the treasure before a federal court in admiralty was nothing if not a threat to the State's expectations and intrusive into its affairs. See Treasure Salvors, 458 U. S., at 678-679, 694 (opinion of Stevens, J.). So was the injunction requiring the issuance of welfare benefits within federally mandated time limits in Edelman, see Edelman, supra, at 656-659; and the order to get out of Arlington Cemetery in Lee, see Lee, 106 U. S., at 197, 220-221; and the order barring enforcement of a rail rate regulation in Young itself, see Ex parte Young, 209 U. S., at 132; and any order granting relief in any federal habeas case, see, e.g., Brennan v. Stewart, 834 F. 2d 1248, 1252, n. 6 (CA5 1988). If intrusiveness were to be a limitation on Young, the limitation would be terminal. [n.10]

A third reason proposed by the principal opinion in support of today's result is the supposedly supplemental character of federal question jurisdiction under Young, subject to giving way whenever the private plaintiff would have entree to a state forum able to grant the relief sought. But this is mistaken in theory and contrary to practice.

Federal question jurisdiction turns on subject matter, not the need to do some job a state court may wish to avoid; it addresses not the adequacy of a state judicial system, but the responsibility of federal courts to vindicate what is supposed to be controlling federal law. See Green v. Mansour, 474 U. S., at 68 ("[T]he availability of prospective relief of the sort awarded in Ex parte Young gives life to the Supremacy Clause. Remedies designed to end a continuing violation of federal law are necessary to vindicate the federal interest in assuring the supremacy of that law"); Pennhurst, supra, at 105 ("[T]he Young doctrine has been accepted as necessary to permit the federal courts to vindicate federal rights and hold state officials responsible to the supreme authority of the United States. . . . Our decisions repeatedly have emphasized that the Young doctrine rests on the need to promote the vindication of federal rights") (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). See also Haring v. Prosise, 462 U.S. 306, 322-323 (1983) (rejecting proposed rule that would relegate certain §1983 claims to state court in the face of the statute's basic policy of providing a federal forum for vindication of federal rights). [n.11]

Thus, it is hardly surprising that Ex parte Young itself gives no hint that the Court thought the relief sought in federal court was unavailable in the Minnesota state courts at the time. Young, indeed, relied on prior cases in which federal courts had entertained suits against state officers notwithstanding the fact, as the Young Court expressly noted, that state forums were available in which the plaintiffs could have vindicated the same claims. See Young, supra, at 153-155 (citing Reagan v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co., 154 U.S. 362 (1894) and Smyth v. Ames, 169 U.S. 466 (1898)). Reagan, like Young, was a rate case, in which the plaintiffs sued the State's Railroad Commission and the state Attorney General in federal court, seeking to enjoin enforcement of the Commission's rate order and any attempt by the State's Attorney General to recover penalties for its violation. Federal jurisdiction was exercised, even though a state statute authorized suit against the Commission in state court. While it is true, as the principal opinion notes, see ante, at 12, that the opinion in Reagan reflects the then prevalent view that state consent to suit in a state forum amounted to consent in the federal forum, see Reagan, supra, at 392; contra Smith v. Reeves, 178 U.S. 436, 441 (1900) (rejecting that view), the Reagan Court permitted the suit to proceed in federal court not on the ground that the state statute authorized a state suit but regardless of that point. The Court viewed the case as one to enjoin state officers from enforcing a state statute in violation of federal law, remarking that it "cannot . . . in any fair sense be considered a suit against the State." Reagan, supra, at 392. Likewise, in Smyth, the historic rate case, a state statute authorized suit in state court to challenge the constitutionality of rates imposed on railroads, but the Court permitted the federal suit for injunctive relief against the state Attorney General to go forward on the ground that it was not against the State. See Smyth, supra, at 518. Had that not been clear enough, the opinion in Young would explain that in Smyth, the Court "did not base its decision on that section [of state law authorizing suit in state court] when it held that a suit of the nature of that before it was not a suit against a State, although brought against individual state officers for the purpose of enjoining them from enforcing, either by civil proceeding or indictment, an unconstitutional enactment to the injury of the plaintiff's right." Young, 209 U. S., at 154.

Nor did the Young Court hint that some inadequacy of state remedies was tantamount to the unavailability of a state forum. See ante, at 9-11 (principal opinion). The opinion in Young and other cases did indeed include observations that remedies available at law might provide inadequate relief to an aggrieved plaintiff, and Young itself noted that the failure to comply with the state statute would result in criminal penalties and hefty fines. But these remarks about the severity of the sanctions supported the Court's conviction that an equitable remedy was appropriate, see Young, supra, at 148, 163-166; see also Poindexter v. Greenhow, 114 U.S. 270, 299 (1885), not that a state forum was unavailable or federal jurisdiction subject to state preemption. [n.12] The principal opinion's notion that availability of a state forum should have some bearing on the applicability of Ex parte Young is thus as much at odds with precedent as with basic jurisdictional principles.

There is one more strike against the principal opinion's assumption that there is some significance in the availability of a state forum. The day the Court decided Young, it also decided General Oil Co. v. Crain, 209 U.S. 211 (1908). General Oil reviewed an order of the Supreme Court of Tennessee dismissing a corporation's suit against a state officer for relief from what it claimed was his violation of the National Constitution. The state court had said it lacked jurisdiction in the matter after construing the suit as one against the State, which was immune as sovereign. This Court held the dismissal to be reversible error, [n.13] ruling as a matter of federal law that the suit could not have been construed as being against the State. See General Oil, supra, at 226-228. State law conferring immunity on its officers could not, in other words, constitutionally excuse a state court of general jurisdiction from an obligation to hear a suit brought to enjoin a state official's action as exceeding his authority because unconstitutional. [n.14] Cf. Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 284 (1980) (state immunity statute cannot immunize an officer from a §1983 suit in state court). The consequence is that in every case in which Ex parte Young supports the exercise of federal question jurisdiction against a state officer, General Oil prohibits the declination of state jurisdiction over the same officer on state immunity grounds. Insofar as state court jurisdiction would count against Ex parte Young in one case, [n.15] it would presumably count against it as heavily in every case.

None of the considerations that the principal opinion would weigh in the course of its balancing process in this case is a legitimate reason for questioning jurisdiction over the state officials, and nothing about property title or regulatory jurisdiction justifies the majority's exception to Young's guarantee of a federal forum to a private federal claimant against state officials.


1 The Tribe originally sought to quiet its claim of title as against the State itself, but the claim was dismissed as barred by the Eleventh Amendment, see 42 F. 3d 1244, 1254 (CA9 1994), and we denied certiorari to review the dismissal. See 517 U. S. ___ (1996).

2 The principal opinion suggests without citation that "in the plan of the Convention" the States may not have consented to suits in federal courts against state officers that rest on the interpretation federal law. Ante, at 12 (principal opinion)
. Because a suit against a state officer to enjoin an ongoing violation of federal law is not a suit against a State, the scope of state consent to suit at the founding has no bearing on the availability of officer suits under Young.

3 The Tribe also claims to hold unextinguished aboriginal title to the lands, a claim not passed on below, but which we have recognized is based on federal law. See generally Oneida Indian Nation of N. Y. v. County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661 (1974).

4 The title claims in this case turn not on a constitutional issue but on federal title law; this makes no difference under Young. See Larson, 337 U. S., at 698-699.

5 Whether Tindal is, or must be, amenable to analysis as an federal ultra vires case we need not now decide; its holding that property title is irrelevant to jurisdictional analysis is not open to question. See Tindal, 167 U. S., at 222-223.

6 While the principal opinion suggests these cases embody a "careful balancing and accommodation of state interests when determining whether the Young exception applies in a given case," ante, at 16 (principal opinion), in fact they simply reflect the Court's effort to demarcate the line between prospective and retrospective relief. That Young represents a "balance of federal and state interests," Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 277 (1986), does not mean the doctrine's application should be balanced against other factors in any given case. Instead, Young's rule recognizing federal judicial power in suits against state officers to enjoin ongoing violations of federal law itself strikes the requisite balance between state and federal interests. Where these conditions are met, no additional "balancing" is required or warranted.

The principal opinion suggests that we held Young to apply in Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267 (1977), because the complaint sought to vindicate civil liberties and accordingly involved strong federal interest. See ante, at 17 (prinicipal opinion). The undeniable federal interest in protecting civil liberties, however, was not the reason we applied the Young remedy in Milliken. The sole enquiry in this regard was whether the relief sought was fairly characterized as prospective. See 433 U. S., at 289 (noting that decree "fits squarely within the prospective compliance exception reaffirmed by Edelman"). Given that we do not view a suit against a state officer for prospective relief as a suit against the State, the fact, as the majority in Seminole Tribe reaffirmed, see Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U. S. ___, ___ (1996) (slip op., at 13-15) that Congress may abrogate state immunity from suit in legislation enacted pursuant to §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment has no bearing on Young's application.

7 One option not available to the State here would be to condemn the lands outright. Federal law prevents the State from exercising eminent domain or otherwise acquiring tribal lands directly from the Tribe. See Rev. Stat. §2116, 25 U.S.C. § 177. Efforts by state and local governments to regulate or acquire Indian lands accordingly may violate federal law, but cannot exact a taking. Tribes possess the right under federal common law to sue to enforce their possessory rights in land. County of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation of N. Y., 470 U.S. 226, 235-236 (1985).

8 In this case, were the District Court to hold for the Tribe and conclude that federal law precludes state regulation, the Quiet Title Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2409a may well preclude the State from bringing a subsequent action to quiet title to the land at issue, unless the United States consents to suit. This fact, however, has no bearing on Young's application. The absence of jurisdiction under the statute to entertain a suit where the Tribe would be the defendant says nothing about whether the Eleventh Amendment, as construed by this Court, bars a suit (i.e. whether the State is the true defendant) where the Tribe is the plaintiff. The two questions are simply independent of each other. Nor (even assuming that the Young and sovereign immunity rules are convertible into doctrines of equity) does this state of affairs provide any equitable justification for foreclosing the Tribe's suit: a congressionally imposed limitation on federal question jurisdiction is hardly fault within the meaning of equity practice, see, e.g., D. Dobbs, Law of Remedies §2.4(2) (2d ed. 1993), and the Tribe, in any event, bears no responsibility for Congress's decision to enact the statute.

9 Justice O'Connor says that Treasure Salvors is inapposite because the plurality's discussion of the property claim there, in her view, focused on whether the state officials were acting ultra vires state law authority, see ante, at 3 (opinion of O'Connor, J.). But the plurality's analysis in Treasure Salvors was not so limited, and noted that the plaintiff salvage company claimed that Florida state officials lacked authority to retain treasure recovered from the sunken galleon because the galleon had been found on submerged land belonging to the United States, not Florida, as determined under the Submerged Lands Act, §2(b), 67 Stat. 29, 43 U.S.C. § 1301(b), and our decision in United States v. Florida, 425 U.S. 791 (1976). See Treasure Salvors, 458 U. S., at 676, and n.5. While the plurality noted further that the company claimed that the state officials lacked authority under state law to retain the treasure, see id., at 692-693, there was no question that the company claimed ownership of the treasure under federal law. Accordingly, I disagree both that Treasure Salvors is inapplicable and that its reasoning was "narrowed" by Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984). Cf. ante, at 3 (opinion of O'Connor, J.).

10 Under existing statutes it would not be even a partial answer to say that Congress has the power under §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to abrogate state sovereign immunity, as to cases within the subject matter covered by the state habeas statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; habeas claims are directed to state officers, see 28 U.S.C. § 2243; States are not persons subject to suit under §1983, see Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); and in neither instance could Congress be said to have intended to abrogate an immunity arising under the Eleventh Amendment.

11 Many federal cases with nondiverse parties, of course, might well have been brought as state cases if state relief could reasonably have been expected. Section 1983, for example, reflects the "grave congressional concern that the state courts had been deficient in protecting federal rights." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 98-99 (1980) (internal citations omitted). See also Patsy v. Board of Regents of Fla., 457 U.S. 496, 503-507 (1982); American Law Institute, Study of the Division of Jurisdiction Between State and Federal Courts 168 (1968). And when the plaintiff suing the state officers has been an Indian tribe, the readiness of the state courts to vindicate the federal right has been less than perfect. Cf. United States v. Kagama, 118 U.S. 375, 384 (1886) ("Because of the local ill feeling, the people of the States where [the Indians] are found are often their deadliest enemies."); Comment, Oneida Nation v. County of Oneida: Tribal Rights of Action and the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, 84 Colum. L. Rev. 1852, 1858-1859 (1984) ("State courts . . . were generally hostile to tribal plaintiffs, for often the states themselves were the primary violators of tribal land rights."); Clinton & Hotopp, Judicial Enforcement of the Federal Restraints on Alienation of Indian Land: The Origins of the Eastern Land Claims, 31 Me. L. Rev. 17, 42-49 (1979) (describing the history of state evasions of the federal statutory restraint on alienations of Indian land and the federal response).

12 The principal opinion also appears to rest on a misreading of Osborn v. Bank of United States, 9 Wheat. 738 (1824), as holding that the officer suit could proceed only because a suit directly against the State was prohibited. See ante, at 9 (principal opinion). Chief Justice Marshall never suggested that a suit against the officers "would be barred" if the State could be named. Instead, he made clear that since the suit would be allowed to proceed if the state could be made a party, it should be allowed to proceed in its absence. The Chief Justice wrote "[I]t would be subversive of the best established principles to say that the laws could not afford the same remedies against the agent employed in doing the wrong, which they would afford against him, could his principal be joined in suit." Osborn, 9 Wheat., at 843. And while the Court recognized the equitable remedy provided relief "more beneficial and complete than the law can give," id., at 845, the Court did not suggest that a remedy in state court was absent, or that any significance attached to the availability of a state forum.

13 The judgment was not actually reversed because the Court reached the previously unreviewed challenge to the official's action and found it meritless. See General Oil Co. v. Crain, 209 U. S., at 231.

14 General Oil's application is not limited to those cases in which a remedy in federal court is unavailable, notwithstanding the observation that state relief was required given the Eleventh Amendment bar to suit in federal court, General Oil Co. v. Crain, 209 U. S., at 226, since Young ensured that the federal courts would be open for injunctive claims just like those at issue in General Oil. See Fallon, The Ideologies of Federal Courts Law, 74 Va. L. Rev. 1141, 1209, n. 312 (1988) (sentences surrounding the references in General Oil to an unavailable federal forum make clear that "the crucial distinction determining the obligations of the state courts is not one involving the availability or nonavailability of federal judicial relief; it is, rather, `between valid and invalid state laws, as determining' whether the suit is one against the state . . . . Because a state cannot authorize its officers to behave unconstitutionally, official action pursuant to an invalid state law cannot be protected by sovereign immunity; and a state court cannot decline to exercise jurisdiction on this basis") (quoting General Oil, supra, at 226); Monaghan, Third Party Standing, 84 Colum. L. Rev. 277, 294, n. 97 (1984) ("if prospective relief is a necessary concomitant of a federal right, availability of such relief in federal courts may not free the states from an obligation to provide it as well").

Nor was General Oil overruled or otherwise "abandoned" by Georgia R. R. & Banking Co. v. Musgrove, 335 U.S. 900 (1949), in which the Court dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court of Georgia holding that state sovereign immunity barred suits asserting constitutional claims against state officials. Cf. 16B C. Wright, A. Miller, & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure §4024, pp. 363-364 (2d ed. 1996). The one paragraph per curiam dismissal in Musgrove stated that an adequate nonfederal ground supported the state court's decision but did not identify the state ground involved; the posture of the case suggests that the Court may have viewed the lower court's decision as based on a valid state law regarding the timing and not the existence of state remedies. See Fallon, supra, at 1211, n. 317.

Finally, insofar as General Oil may be read to require that States provide some adequate judicial remedy to redress acts of state officials that violate federal law, see, e.g., Collins, Article III Cases, State Court Duties, and the Madisonian Compromise, 1995 Wis. L. Rev. 39, 164, n. 359, but not necessarily injunctive relief in particular, its relevance for our purposes remains the same, that is, that every litigant seeking prospective relief in federal court under Young may obtain some adequate redress in state court as well.

15 Quite apart even from what General Oil may mandate, it appears that in all 50 States, as a matter of course, private plaintiffs may obtain declaratory and injunctive relief in state court for the acts of state officials in circumstances where relief would be available in federal court under Young. Some state courts have announced as a general rule that a suit seeking to enjoin acts by a state official that violate federal law, or are otherwise unauthorized, is not a suit against the State. See, e.g., Aland v. Graham, 287 Ala. 226, 229-230, 250 So. 2d 677, 679 (1971); Etheredge v. Bradley, 480 P. 2d 414, 416 (Alaska 1971); Doe v. Heintz, 204 Conn. 17, 31-32, 526 A. 2d 1318, 1326 (1987); Georgia Public Service Comm'n v. Atlanta Gas Light Co., 205 Ga. 863, 869-874, 55 S. E. 2d 618, 623-625 (1949); W. H. Greenwell, Ltd. v. Department of Land and Natural Resources, 50 Haw. 207, 208-209, 436 P. 2d 527, 528 (1968); Century Distilling Co. v. Defenbach, 61 Idaho 192, 200-203, 99 P. 2d 56, 59-60 (1940); Noorman v. Department of Public Works & Buildings, 366 Ill. 216, 220-222, 8 N. E. 2d, 637, 639, appeal dism'd, 302 U.S. 637 (1937); Rockford Memorial Hospital v. Department of Human Rights, 272 Ill. App. 3d 751, 754-758, 651 N. E. 2d 649, 653-655, appeal denied, 163 Ill. 2d 586, 657 N. E. 2d 638 (1995); Collins v. State Bd. of Social Welfare, 248 Iowa 369, 372-373, 81 N. W. 2d 4, 6 (1957); Board of Trustees of the Univ. of Ky. v. Hayse, 782 S. W. 2d 609, 616 (Ky. 1989), cert. denied, 497 U.S. 938 (1990); Carso v. Board of Liquidation of State Debt, 205 La. 368, 371-374, 17 So. 2d 358, 360 (1944); Jones v. Maine State Highway Comm'n, 238 A. 2d 226, 229-230 (Me. 1968); Thompson v. Auditor General, 261 Mich. 624, 628-630, 247 N. W. 360, 362 (1933); L. K. v. Gregg, 425 N. W. 2d 813, 818, n. 3 (Minn. 1988); Kleban v. Missouri, 363 Mo. 7, 15-17, 247 S. W. 2d 832, 837 (1952); Rein v. Johnson, 149 Neb. 67, 68-69, 30 N. W. 2d 548, 551-552 (1947), cert. denied, 335 U.S. 814 (1948); Grinnell v. State, 121 N. H. 823, 825-826, 435 A. 2d 523, 525 (1981); Abelson's, Inc. v. New Jersey State Board of Optometrists, 5 N. J. 412, 416-418, 75 A. 2d 867, 869 (1950); Ramah Navaho School Bd. v. Bureau of Revenue, 104 N. M. 302, 308, 720 P. 2d 1243, 1249 (Ct. App. 1986); Carter v. City of Las Cruces, 121 N. M. 580, 583, 915 P. 2d 336, 338 (Ct. App. 1996); Corum v. University of North Carolina, 330 N. C. 761, 771, and n. 3, 772, 413 S. E. 2d 276, 283, and n. 2 (1992); Ennis v. Dasovick, 506 N. W. 2d 386, 392 (N. D. 1993); Schwarz v. Board of Trustees, 31 Ohio St. 3d 267, 271-274, 510N. E. 2d 808, 812-813 (1987); Gast v. State, 36 Ore. App. 441, 443-447, 585 P. 2d 12, 15-17 (1978); Philadelphia Life Ins. Co. v. Commonwealth, 410 Pa. 571, 574-577, 190 A. 2d 111, 113-114 (1963); Ware Shoals Mfg. Co. v. Jones, 78 S. C. 211, 216-219, 58 S. E. 811, 813 (1907); White Eagle Oil & Refining Co. v. Gunderson, 48 S. D. 608, ___-___, 205 N. W. 614, 617-618 (1925); American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Conway, 146 Vt. 579, 586-587, 508 A. 2d 408, 413 (1986); State ex rel. Robinson v. Superior Court, 182 Wash. 277, 281-284, 46 P. 2d 1046, 1049-1050 (1935); Pittsburgh Elevator Co. v. West Va. Bd. of Regents, 310 S. E. 2d 675, 685 (W. Va. 1983); Wisconsin Fertilizer Ass'n v. Karns, 39 Wis. 2d 95, 100-102, 158 N. W. 2d 294, 297 (1968); Oyler v. State, 618 P. 2d 1042, 1047-1048 (Wyo. 1980).

Other States have permitted such suits to proceed without discussing the jurisdictional basis for the action. See, e.g., Carroll v. Robinson, 178 Ariz. 453, 458-459, 874 P. 2d 1010, 1015 (Ct. App. 1994); Honor v. Yamuchi, 307 Ark. 324, 330-332, 820 S. W. 2d 267, 271-272 (1991); Endler v. Schutzbank, 68 Cal. 2d 162, 180-182, 436 P. 2d 297, 310-311 (1968); International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Colorado State Fair & Industrial Exposition Comm'n, 199 Colo. 265, 268-269, 610 P. 2d 486, 489 (1980); Gebhart v. Belton, 33 Del. Ch. 144, 91 A. 2d 137 (1952), rev'd on other grounds, 349 U.S. 294 (1955); Mercer v. Hemmings, 170 So. 2d 33, 35 (Fla. 1964); Libertarian Party of Florida v. Smith, 660 So. 2d 807, 807 (Dist. Ct. App. Fla. 1995); Darling v. Kansas Water Office, 245 Kan. 45, 52-54, 774 P. 2d 941, 947 (1989); Gumbhir v. Kansas State Bd. of Pharmacy, 231 Kan. 507, 512-515, 646 P. 2d 1078, 1084 (1982); Secretary of State v. Bryson, 244 Md. 418, 423-424, 428-429, 224 A. 2d 277, 280, 283 (Ct. App. 1966); Maryland Comm. for Fair Representation v. Tawes, 228 Md. 423-427, 439-440, 180 A. 2d 656, 662-663, 671 (1962); Apkin v. Treasurer & Receiver General, 401 Mass. 427, 428-430, 517 N. E. 2d 141, 141-142 (1988); Wicks v. Mississippi Valley State Univ., 536 So. 2d 20, 20 (Miss. 1988); Orozco v. Day, 934 P. 2d 1009, 1017 (Mont. 1997); Northern Nevada Ass'n of Injured Workers v. Nevada State Industries Insurance System, 107 Nev. 108, 115-116, 807 P. 2d 728, 733 (1991); New York Central R. Co. v. Lefkowitz, 12 N. Y. 2d 305, 309-310, 189 N. E. 2d 695, 697 (1963); Owner Operator Independent Driver Ass'n v. Anthony, 879 P. 2d 845, 847-848 (Okla. App. 1994); Retired Adjunct Professors of the State of Rhode Island v. Almond, 690 A. 2d 1342, 1348 (R. I. 1997); Riggs v. Burson, 941 S. W. 2d 44 (Tenn. 1997); Sanders v. State Dept. of Public Welfare, 472 S. W. 2d179, 183-184 (Ct. App. Tex. 1971), error dism'd (1972); H. L. v. Matheson, 604 P. 2d 907, 907 (Utah 1979), aff'd, 450 U.S. 398 (1981); State Bd. of Elections v. Forb, 214 Va. 264, 265-266, 199 S. E. 2d 527, 528 (1973).