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1793: The Supreme Court and the Metaphysics of Sovereignty

1793: The Supreme Court and the Metaphysics of Sovereignty

(p.31) III. 1793: The Supreme Court and the Metaphysics of Sovereignty
A Community Built on Words
University of Chicago Press

The Supreme Court's first great constitutional decision, indeed its first important decision of any sort, was also its first great misstep. On February 18, 1793, the Court held in Chisholm v. Georgia that Article III of the Constitution gave it jurisdiction over an action for damages brought against a state by a citizen of another state. The Court's decision provoked swift and decisive repudiation. Less than a year after the Court announced its judgment, Congress approved a constitutional amendment intended to overturn Chisholm, and within a year the necessary supermajority of states had concurred in Congress's proposal. In February 1798, five years after Chisholm, the Court took note of the eleventh amendment, and held that it eliminated the Court's jurisdiction over all actions against states, including those like Chisholm itself that were filed before the amendment's ratification. Chisholm's continuing significance is limited to the light it sheds on the amendment that overruled it, and indeed that is how the justices of the current Court, and most constitutional lawyers, understandably view it.

Keywords:   Supreme Court, constitutional decision, jurisdiction, repudiation, constitutional amendment, Chisholm v. Georgia

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