State sovereign immunity protects states from liability in certain instances. The experienced civil rights attorneys at Miller Law Group can help you navigate this doctrine if you have a civil rights claim against a state government.
The Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects states from suits by citizens of other states. In Hans v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court extended this state sovereign immunity to protect states from lawsuits filed by their own citizens, even though not expressly covered by the Eleventh Amendment.
Perhaps the most important Supreme Court ruling on sovereign immunity came in Ex parte Young, where the Court found an exception to this immunity. The Court held that the Eleventh Amendment does not protect state officials who act unconstitutionally. This important ruling made possible suits to prospectively challenge a law on constitutional grounds, a practice that is becoming increasingly common in our legal system. However, Ex parte Young only applied to prospective injunctive relief, not suits for monetary damages.
The avenue to monetary damages comes with the doctrine of abrogation, which finds congressional authority to abrogate state sovereign immunity if Congress (1) unequivocally expresses intent to abrogate; and (2) passes a law under a valid constitutional power, namely § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Seminole Tribe v. Florida.
Congress invoked this abrogation authority when it passed § 1983. Which now allows individuals the ability to file a civil rights lawsuit against state officials for monetary damages.
State sovereign immunity is an important hurdle to surmount in civil rights litigation. If you or a loved one suffered a civil rights violation, contact Miller Law Group today for a free consultation or call us at (919) 348-4361.