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Law School Case Brief

Seminole Tribe v. Florida - 517 U.S. 44, 116 S. Ct. 1114 (1996)

Rule:

In order to determine whether Congress has abrogated the states' sovereign immunity, we ask two questions: first, whether Congress has unequivocally expressed its intent to abrogate the immunity, and second, whether Congress has acted pursuant to a valid exercise of power.

Facts:

Petitioner tribe sued the State and its governor, alleging that they refused to enter into any negotiation for the inclusion of gaming activities in a tribal-state compact thereby violating 25 U.S.C.S. § 2710(d)(3). In their unsuccessful motion to dismiss the complaint, the State and the governor asserted that the suit violated the State's sovereign immunity under U.S. Const. amend. XI. The State and the governor took an interlocutory appeal of the decision that denied their motion to dismiss. The appellate court reversed, holding that amend. XI, barred the tribe's suit. On certiorari, the Court affirmed.

Issue:

Did Congress "unequivocally" express its intent to abrogate the immunity?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court affirmed because amend. XI, prohibited Congress from making the State capable of being sued in federal court. Notwithstanding Congress' clear intent to abrogate states' sovereign immunity through the gaming act, the Indian Commerce Clause did not grant Congress that power. 

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