The First Supreme Court Case

In all matters constitutional, the Supreme Court rules on the laws of the land. As of now, Chief Justice John Roberts presides over a court consisting of himself, John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito. It was under John Jay 1 that the first substantial case was decided by the Court.

In 1792, Alexander Chisholm of South Carolina, the executor of the estate of Robert Farquhar, attempted to sue the state of Georgia in the Supreme Court over payments due them for goods that Farquhar had supplied Georgia during the American Revolutionary War. In 1793, U.S. Attorney General Edmund Randolph argued the case for the plaintiff before the Court in “Chisholm v. Georgia“. Georgia refused to appear, claiming that as a “sovereign,” a state did not have to appear in court to hear a suit against it to which it did not consent.

The Court, in a 4-1 decision, found in favor of the plaintiff, with Chief Justice Jay concurring with Justices Blair, Wilson, and Cushing 2, with Justice James Iredell dissenting. 3 The Court argued that Article 3, Section 2 of the Constitution abrogated the States’ sovereign immunity and granted federal courts the affirmative power to hear disputes between private citizens and States.

In 1795, largely as a result of the Chisolm decision, the Eleventh Amendment was ratified, which removed federal jurisdiction in cases where citizens of one state or foreign countries attempt to sue another state. However, citizens of one state or foreign countries can still use the Federal courts if the state consents to be sued or if Congress, pursuant to a valid exercise of Fourteenth Amendment remedial powers, abrogates the states’ immunity from suit. 4

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