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. In Alabama v. Arizona,1063 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 the burden generally required by a petitioner seeking an injunction 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 which is susceptible of judicial enforcement according to . . . the common law or equity systems of jurisprudence.”1064 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,1065 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.1066 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.1067 Accordingly, Massachusetts was held not to be without an adequate remedy in Missouri’s courts or in a federal district court in Missouri.


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). 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. § 1251(a) giving the Court “original and exclusive jurisdiction” of these kinds of suits. back
Massachusetts v. Missouri, 308 U.S. 1, 15–16, (1939), citing Florida v. Mellon, 273 U.S. 12 (1927). back
306 U.S. 398 (1939). back
308 U.S. at 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. back
308 U.S. at 17, 19. back