Private Suits for Damages Against Non-Consenting States

In Alden v. Maine (Alden), 527 U.S. 706, 119 S. Ct. 2240, 144 L. Ed. 2d 636 (1999), after noting its prior holding in Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 116 S. Ct. 1114, 134 L. Ed. 2d 252 (1996), that "Congress lacks power under Article I of the U.S. Constitution to abrogate the States' sovereign immunity from suits commenced or prosecuted in the federal courts," the Supreme Court of the United States further held, "that the powers delegated to Congress under Article I . . . also do not include the power to subject nonconsenting States to private suits for damages in state courts." Alden, 527 U.S. at 712. In so holding, the Court noted: Congress has vast power but not all power. When Congress legislates in matters affecting the States, it may not treat these sovereign entities as mere prefectures or corporations. Congress must accord States the esteem due to them as joint participants in a federal system, one beginning with the premise of sovereignty in both the central Government and the separate States. Congress has ample means to ensure compliance with valid federal laws, but it must respect the sovereignty of the States. Id. at 758. Accordingly, the Court held that the State of Maine was not subject to suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 in its own courts in light of Maine's sovereign immunity.