Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

Beyond Marbury: Jurisdictional Self-Dealing In Seminole Tribe


In Seminole Tribe v. Florida, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution's Article III embodies a principle of state sovereign immunity which so constrains the federal judicial power that it prohibits Congress from granting federal courts subject matter jurisdiction over private lawsuits to enforce Article I legislation against states. At the same time, however, and again in Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe, the Court reaffirmed its own Ex parte Young doctrine, under which the Court itself unilaterally granted federal courts subject matter jurisdiction over private lawsuits to coerce states to comply with federal law despite state sovereign immunity. Neither in Seminole Tribe nor in Coeur d'Alene Tribe did the Court explain how Article HI could so limit Congress's power to grant subject matter jurisdiction in such lawsuits, while leaving intact the Court's own power to do so under Ex parte Young. Arguing that Ex parte Young and the Young doctrine rest on no affirmative principle of law, Professor Fitzgerald suggests that Young's survival of Seminole Tribe reflects the Court's claim for itself of a freestanding judicial power to regulate access to federal courts for private lawsuits challenging state interests--a judicial power that now outstrips both ordinary judicial review and also Congress's constitutional authority over the federal courts.