CRS Annotated Constitution

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Cases of Which the Court Has Declined Jurisdiction.—In other cases, however, the Court, centering its attention upon the elements of a case or controversy, has declined jurisdiction. Thus, in Alabama v. Arizona,909 where Alabama sought to enjoin nineteen States from regulating or prohibiting the sale of convict–made goods, the Court went far beyond holding that it had no jurisdiction, and indicated that jurisdiction of suits between States will be exercised only when absolutely necessary, that the equity requirements in a suit between States are more exacting than in a suit between private persons, that the threatened injury to a plaintiff State must be of great magnitude and imminent, and that the burden on the plaintiff State to establish all the elements of a case is greater than that generally required by a petitioner seeking an injunction suit in cases between private parties.

Pursuing a similar line of reasoning, the Court declined to take jurisdiction of a suit brought by Massachusetts against Missouri and certain of its citizens to prevent Missouri from levying inheritance taxes upon intangibles held in trust in Missouri by resident trustees. In holding that the complaint presented no justiciable controversy, the Court declared that to constitute such a controversy, the complainant State must show that it “has suffered a wrong through the action of the other State, furnishing ground for judicial redress, or is asserting a right against the other State[p.756]which is susceptible of judicial enforcement according to . . . the common law or equity systems of jurisprudence.”910 The fact that the trust property was sufficient to satisfy the claims of both States and that recovery by either would not impair any rights of the other distinguished the case from Texas v. Florida,911 where the contrary situation obtained. Furthermore, the Missouri statute providing for reciprocal privileges in levying inheritance taxes did not confer upon Massachusetts any contractual right. The Court then proceeded to reiterate its earlier rule that a State may not invoke the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court for the benefit of its residents or to enforce the individual rights of its citizens.912 Moreover, Massachusetts could not invoke the original jurisdiction of the Court by the expedient of making citizens of Missouri parties to a suit not otherwise maintainable.913 Accordingly, Massachusetts was held not to be without an adequate remedy in Missouri’s courts or in a federal district court in Missouri.

The Problem of Enforcement: Virginia v. West Virginia.—A very important issue that presents itself in interstate litigation is the enforcement of the Court’s decree, once it has been entered. In some types of suits, this issue may not arise, and if it does, it may be easily met. Thus, a judgment putting a State in possession of disputed territory is ordinarily self–executing. But if the losing State should oppose execution, refractory state officials, as individuals, would be liable to civil suits or criminal prosecutions in the federal courts. Likewise an injunction may be enforced against state officials as individuals by civil or criminal proceedings. Those judgments, on the other hand, which require a State in its governmental capacity to perform some positive act present the issue of enforcement in more serious form. The issue arose directly in the long and much litigated case between Virginia and West Virginia over the proportion of the state debt of original Virginia owed by West Virginia after its separate admission to the Union under a compact which provided that West Virginia assume a share of the debt.[p.757]

The suit was begun in 1906, and a judgment was rendered against West Virginia in 1915. Finally, in 1917, Virginia filed a suit against West Virginia to show cause why, in default of payment of the judgment, an order should not be entered directing the West Virginia legislature to levy a tax for payment of the judgment.914 Starting with the rule that the judicial power essentially involves the right to enforce the results of its exertion,915 the Court proceeded to hold that it applied with the same force to States as to other litigants916 and to consider appropriate remedies for the enforcement of its authority. In this connection, Chief Justice White declared: “As the powers to render the judgment and to enforce it arise from the grant in the Constitution on that subject, looked at from a generic point of view, both are federal powers and, comprehensively considered, are sustained by every authority of the federal government, judicial, legislative, or executive, which may be appropriately exercised.”917 The Court, however, left open the question of its power to enforce the judgment under existing legislation and scheduled the case for reargument at the next term, but in the meantime West Virginia accepted the Court’s judgment and entered into an agreement with Virginia to pay it.918

Controversies Between a State and Citizens of Another State

The decision in Chisholm v. Georgia919 that this category of cases included equally those where a State was a party defendant provoked the proposal and ratification of the Eleventh Amendment, and since then controversies between a State and citizens of another State have included only those cases where the State has been a party plaintiff or has consented to be sued.920 As a party plaintiff, a State may bring actions against citizens of other States to protect its legal rights or in some instances as parens patriae to protect the health and welfare of its citizens. In general, the Court has tended to construe strictly this grant of judicial power, which simultaneously comes within its original jurisdiction, by perhaps an even more rigorous application of the concepts of cases and con[p.758]troversies than that in cases between private parties.921 This it does by holding rigorously to the rule that all the party defendants be citizens of other States922 and by adhering to congressional distribution of its original jurisdiction concurrently with that of other federal courts.923

Jurisdiction Confined to Civil Cases.—In Cohens v. Virginia,924 there is a dictum to the effect that the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court does not include suits between a State and its own citizens. Long afterwards, the Supreme Court dismissed an action for want of jurisdiction because the record did not show the corporation against which the suit was brought was chartered in another State.925 Subsequently, the Court has ruled that it will not entertain an action by a State to which its citizens are either parties of record or would have to be joined because of the effect of a judgment upon them.926 In his dictum in Cohens v. Virginia, Chief Justice Marshall also indicated that perhaps no jurisdiction existed over suits by States to enforce their penal laws.927 Sixty–seven years later, the Court wrote this dictum into law in Wisconsin v. Pelican Ins. Co.928 Wisconsin sued a Louisiana corporation to recover a judgment rendered in its favor by one of its own courts. Relying partly on the rule of international law that the courts of no country execute the penal laws of another, partly upon the 13th section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 which vested the Supreme Court with exclusive jurisdiction of controversies of a civil nature where a State is a party, and partly on Justice Iredell’s dissent in Chisholm v. Georgia,929 where he confined the term “controversies” to civil suits, Justice Gray ruled for the Court that for purposes of original jurisdiction, “controversies between a State and citizens of another State” are confined to civil suits.930

The State’s Real Interest.—Ordinarily, a State may not sue in its name unless it is the real party in interest with real inter[p.759]ests. It can sue to protect its own property interests,931 and if it sues for its own interest as owner of another State’s bonds, rather than as an assignee for collection, jurisdiction exists.932 Where a State in order to avoid the limitation of the Eleventh Amendment by statute provided for suit in the name of the State to collect on the bonds of another State held by one of its citizens, it was refused the right to sue.933 Nor can a State sue on behalf of its own citizens the citizens of other States to collect claims.934


909 291 U.S. 286 (1934). The Court in recent years, with a significant caseload problem, has been loath to permit filings of original actions where the parties might be able to resolve their disputes in other courts, even in cases in which the jurisdiction over the particular dispute is exclusively original. Arizona v. New Mexico, 425 U.S. 794 (1976) (dispute subject of state court case brought by private parties); California v. West Virginia, 454 U.S. 1027 (1981).

Supplement: [P. 755, add to n.909:]

But in Mississippi v. Louisiana, 506 U.S. 73 (1992) , the Court’s reluctance to exercise original jurisdiction ran afoul of the “uncompromising language” of 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1251(a) giving the Court “original and exclusive jurisdiction” of these kinds of suits.

910 Massachusetts v. Missouri, 308 U.S. 1, 15–16, (1939), citing Florida v. Mellon, 273 U.S. 12 (1927).
911 306 U.S. 398 (1939).
912 Id., 308 U.S., 17, citing Oklahoma v. Atchison, T. & S.F. Ry., 220 U.S. 277 286, (1911), and Oklahoma ex rel Johnson v. Cook, 304 U.S. 387, 394 (1938). See also New Hampshire v. Louisiana and New York v. Louisiana, 108 U.S. 76 (1883), which held that a State cannot bring a suit on behalf of its citizens to collect on bonds issued by another State, and Louisiana v. Texas, 176 U.S. 1 (1900), which held that a State cannot sue another to prevent maladministration of quarantine laws.
913 Id., 308 U.S., 17, 19.
914 The various litigations of Virginia v. West Virginia are to be found in 206 U.S. 290 (1907); 209 U.S. 514 (1908); 220 U.S. 1 (1911); 222 U.S. 17 (1911); 231 U.S. 89 (1913); 234 U.S. 117 (1914); 238 U.S. 202 (1915); 2 41 U.S.C. Sec. 531 (1916); 246 U.S. 565 (1918).
915 Id., 246 U.S., 591.
916 Id., 600.
917 Id., 601.
918 C. Warren, The Supreme Court and Sovereign States (Boston: 1924), 78–79.
919 2 Dall. (2 U.S.) 419 (1793).
920 See the discussion under the Eleventh Amendment.
921 Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447 (1923); Florida v. Mellon, 273 U.S. 12 (1927); New Jersey v. Sargent, 269 U.S. 328 (1926).
922 Pennsylvania v. Quicksilver Company, 10 Wall. (77 U.S.) 553 (1871); California v. Southern Pacific Co., 157 U.S. 229 (1895); Minnesota v. Northern Securities Co., 184 U.S. 199 (1902).
923 Wisconsin v. Pelican Ins. Co., 127 U.S. 265 (1888).
924 6 Wheat. (19 U.S.) 264, 398–399 (1821).
925 Pennsylvania v. Quicksilver Mining Co., 10 Wall. (77 U.S.) 553 (1871).
926 California v. Southern Pacific Co., 157 U.S. 229 (1895); Minnesota v. Northern Securities Co., 184 U.S. 199 (1902).
927 Id., 6 Wheat. (19 U.S.), 398–399.
928 127 U.S. 265 (1888).
929 2 Dall. (2 U.S.) 419, 431–432 (1793).
930 Id., 127 U.S., 289–300.
931 Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & B. Bridge Co., 13 How. (54 U.S.) 518, 559 (1852); Oklahoma ex rel. Johnson v. Cook, 304 U.S. 387 (1938); Georgia v. Evans, 316 U.S. 159 (1942).
932 South Dakota v. North Carolina, 192 U.S. 286 (1904).
933 New Hampshire v. Louisiana, 108 U.S. 76 (1883).
934 Oklahoma ex rel. Johnson v. Cook, 304 U.S. 387 (1938).
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