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


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.


The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C.S. § 2710, passed by Congress pursuant to the Indian Commerce Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3, allowed an Indian tribe to conduct certain gaming activities only in conformance with a valid compact between the tribe and the State in which the gaming activities are located. Under the Act, States have a duty to negotiate in good faith with a tribe toward the formation of a compact, and a tribe may sue a State in federal court in order to compel performance of that duty. The Seminole Tribe filed a complaint against the State of Florida and its governor, alleging that they refused to enter into any negotiation for the inclusion of gaming activities in a tribal-state compact. 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 Court of Appeals reversed after holding that state immunity does not permit an Indian tribe to force good-faith negotiations by suing a State's Governor.


Was the State immune from suit?




The judgment of dismissal barring petitioner tribe's suit under the Eleventh Amendment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States, on a grant of certiorari. The Court first held that the Eleventh Amendment prevents Congress from authorizing suits by Indian tribes against the States for prospective injunctive relief to enforce legislation enacted pursuant to the Indian Commerce Clause. The Court next held that the narrow immunity doctrine of Ex parte Young does not permit suits against a State's governor for prospective injunctive relief to enforce the good-faith bargaining requirement of the Act. In reaching its conclusion, the Court specifically overruled its decision in Pennsylvania v. Union Gas Co., 491 U.S. 1, 105 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1989)

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