AG Curtis Hill urges U.S. Supreme Court to overturn 1979 decision diluting states’ sovereignty
Attorney General Curtis Hill announced yesterday he is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 1979 decision Nevada vs. Hall, which holds that states are subject to lawsuits brought against them in the courts of other states. Sovereign immunity prevents states from being sued without their consent. Hall’s holding, which allows plaintiffs to circumvent sovereign immunity by bringing suit against one state in the courts of another state, is irreconcilable with the Supreme Court’s larger body of sovereign immunity decisions, said Attorney General Hill. He is leading a 44-state friend-of-the-court (amicus) brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case Franchise Tax Board of the State of California v. Gilbert P. Hyatt. The case stems from lawsuits filed in Nevada courts by inventor Gilbert Hyatt against the California tax agency. The U.S. Constitution’s Eleventh Amendment, ratified in 1795, states, “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” States, however, enjoy greater protection of their sovereign immunity than the specific guarantees of the Eleventh Amendment, Attorney General Hill asserts in the brief. That is because, he said, the concept of sovereign immunity is enshrined in historic common law principles of English legal tradition that is the basis for modern American law. “The States did not relinquish that immunity when they ratified the Constitution,” the brief states. “Instead, the framers understood the Constitution to preserve the traditional sovereign immunity of the States. The Eleventh Amendment was enacted not to outline the boundaries of state sovereign immunity, but to restore its common law understanding. Hall’s holding that state sovereign immunity is not protected in the courts of other States contravenes both this history and the Court’s precedents.”
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