The Jay, Rutledge, and Ellsworth Courts (1789–1800)


CourtSpeak: Chisholm v. Georgia State vs. State Case (1793)

Chief Justice John Jay (majority): “If we attend to the words, we find them to be express, positive, free from ambiguity, and without room for such implied expressions: ‘The judicial power of the United States shall extend to controversies between a state and citizens of another state.’ If the Constitution really meant to extend these powers only to those controversies in which a State might be Plaintiff, to the exclusion of those in which citizens had demands against a State, it is inconceivable that it should have attempted to convey that meaning in words, not only so incompetent, but also repugnant to it; if it meant to exclude a certain class of these controversies, why were they not expressly excepted; on the contrary, not even an intimation of such intention appears in any part of the Constitution. It cannot be pretended that where citizens urge and insist upon demands against a State, which the State refuses to admit and comply with, that there is no controversy between them. If it is a controversy between them, then it clearly falls not only within the spirit, but the very words of the Constitution.”

Justice John Blair (majority): “It seems to me, that if this Court should refuse to hold jurisdiction of a case where a State is a Defendant, it would renounce part of the authority conferred, and consequently, part of the duty imposed on it by the Constitution; because it would be a refusal to take cognizance of a case where a State is a party.”

Justice James Wilson (majority): “‘The judicial power of the United States shall extend to controversies, between a state and citizens of another State.’ Could the strictest legal language; could even that language, which is peculiarly appropriated to an art, deemed, by a great master, to be one of the most honorable, laudable, and profitable things in our law; could this strict and appropriated language, describe, with more precise accuracy, the cause now depending before the tribunal?”

Justice William Cushing (majority): “Upon the whole, I am of the opinion, that the Constitution warrants a suit against a State, by an individual citizen of another State.”

Justice James Iredell (dissenting): “I believe there is no doubt that neither in the State now in question, nor in any other in the Union, any particular Legislative mode, authorizing a compulsory suit for the recovery of money against a State, was in being either when the Constitution was adopted, or at the time the judicial act was passed.”


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Supreme Court Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App