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Law School Case Brief

Chisholm v. Georgia - 2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419 (1793)


That the United States Supreme Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction of all controversies of a civil nature, where a state is a party, except between a state and its citizens; and except also, between a state and citizens of other states, or aliens, in which latter case it shall have original, but not exclusive jurisdiction. And shall have, exclusively, all jurisdiction of suits or proceedings against ambassadors, or other public ministers, or their domestics, or domestic servants, as a court of law can have or exercise consistently with the law of nations; and original, but not exclusive jurisdiction of all suits brought by ambassadors, or other public ministers, or in which a consul, or vice-consul, shall be a party.


In 1792, Alexander Chisholm, from South Carolina, the executor of the estate of Robert Farquhar, attempted to sue the State of Georgia in the Supreme Court over payments due to him for goods that Farquhar had supplied Georgia during the American Revolutionary War. The United States Attorney General  argued the case for the plaintiff before the court. The defendant, Georgia, refused to appear, claiming that, as a sovereign state, it could not be sued without granting its consent to the suit.


Can a State be sued by a citizen of a different state?




The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Executor Chisholm. U.S. Const. art. III provided for jurisdiction by the Court when a State was a party to a controversy between a State and citizens of another state, which was the situation in this case. The interpretation that the State must be the plaintiff was an invalid interpretation. The judicial act recognizes the jurisdiction over States. Instead of using the first expression in the Constitution, to wit, "controversies, between" it adopts the second, namely, "where a State shall be a party." Thus it makes no distinction between a State as Plaintiff, or as Defendant; but evidently comprehends in the word "party" a State, as Defendant in one case at least, where a State is opposed to a State. Plaintiff had standing to bring a suit in assumpsit against the State. The Court entered an order allowing such with service to be made upon the governor and the attorney general of the State, and making the State's failure to appear or to show cause grounds for a default judgment.

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