Osborn v. Bank of the United States9 Wheat. 738 1824
Chief Justice Marshall. . . . 6. We proceed now to the 6th point made by the appellants, which is, that if any case is made in the bill, proper for the interference of a Court of Chancery, it is against the State of Ohio, in which case the Circuit Court could not exercise jurisdiction.
The bill is brought, it is said, for the purpose of protecting the Bank in the exercise of a franchise granted by a law of the United States, which franchise the State of Ohio asserts a right to invade, and is about to invade. It prays the aid of the Court to restrain the officers of the State from executing the law. It is, then, a controversy between the Bank and the State of Ohio. The interest of the State is direct and immediate, not consequential. The process of the Court, though not directed against the State by name, acts directly upon it, by restraining its officers. The process, therefore, is substantially, though not in form, against the State, and the Court ought not to proceed without making the State a party. If this cannot be done, the Court cannot take jurisdiction of the cause.
The full pressure of this argument is felt, and the difficulties it presents are acknowledged. The direct interest of the State in the suit, as brought, is admitted; and, had it been in the power of the Bank to make it a party, perhaps no decree ought to have been pronounced in the cause, until the State was before the Court. But this was not in the power of the Bank. The eleventh amendment of the constitution has exempted a State from the suits of citizens of other States, or aliens; and the very difficult question is to be decided, whether, in such a case, the Court may act upon the agents employed by the State, and on the property in their hands.
Before we try this question by the constitution, it may not be time misapplied, if we pause for a moment, and reflect on the relative situation of the Union with its members, should the objection prevail.
A denial of jurisdiction forbids all inquiry into the nature of the case. It applies to cases perfectly clear in themselves; to cases where the government is in the exercise of its best established and most essential powers, as well as to those which may be deemed questionable. It asserts, that the agents of a State, alleging the authority of a law void in itself, because repugnant to the constitution, may arrest the execution of any law in the United States. It maintains, that if a State shall impose a fine or penalty on any person employed in the execution of any law of the United States, it may levy that fine or penalty by a ministerial officer, without the sanction even of its own Courts; and that the individual, though he perceives the approaching danger, can obtain no protection from the judicial department of the government. The carrier of the mail, the collector of the revenue, the marshal of a district, the recruiting officer, may all be inhibited, under ruinous penalties, from the performance of their respective duties; the warrant of a ministerial officer may authorize the collection of these penalties, and the person thus obstructed in the performance of his duty, may indeed resort to his action for damages, after the infliction of the injury, but cannot avail himself of the preventive justice of the nation to protect him in the performance of his duties. Each member of the Union is capable, at its will, of attacking the nation, of arresting its progress at every step, of acting vigorously and effectually in the execution of its designs, while the nation stands naked, stripped of its defensive armour, and incapable of shielding its agent or executing its laws otherwise than by proceedings which are to take place after the mischief is perpetrated, and which must often be ineffectual, from the inability of the agents to make compensation.
These are said to be extreme cases; but the case at bar, had it been put by way of illustration in argument, might have been termed an extreme case; and, if a penalty on a revenue officer, for performing his duty, be more obviously wrong than a penalty on the Bank, it is a difference in degree, not in principle. Public sentiment would be more shocked by the infliction of a penalty on a public officer for the performance of his duty, than by the infliction of this penalty on a Bank which, while carrying on the fiscal operations of the government, is also transacting its own business; but, in both cases, the officer levying the penalty acts under a void authority, and the power to restrain him is denied as positively in the one as in the other.
The distinction between any extreme case, and that which has actually occurred, if, indeed, any difference of principle can be supposed to exist between them, disappears, when considering the question of jurisdiction; for, if the Courts of the United States cannot rightfully protect the agents who execute every law authorized by the constitution, from the direct action of State agents in the collection of penalties, they cannot rightfully protect those who execute any law.
The question, then, is, whether the constitution of the United States has provided a tribunal which can peacefully and rightfully protect those who are employed in carrying into execution the laws of the Union, from the attempts of a particular State to resist the execution of those laws.
The State of Ohio denies the existence of this power, and contends, that no preventive proceedings whatever, or proceedings against the very property which may have been seized by the agent; of a State, can be sustained against such agent, because they would be substantially against the State itself, in violation of the 11th amendment of the constitution.
That the Courts of the Union cannot entertain a suit brought against a State by an alien, or the citizen of another State, is not to be controverted. Is a suit, brought against an individual, for any cause whatever, a suit against a State, in the sense of the constitution?
The 11th amendment is the limitation of a power supposed to be granted in the original instrument; and to understand accurately the extent of the limitation, it seems proper to define the power that is limited.
The words of the constitution, so far as they respect this question, are, "The judicial power shall extend to controversies between two or more States, between a State and citizens of another State, and between a State and foreign states, citizens, or subjects."
A subsequent clause distributes the power previously granted, and assigns to the Supreme Court original jurisdiction in those cases in which "a State shall be a party."
The words of the 11th amendment are, "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 a foreign state."
The Bank of the United States contends, that in all cases in which jurisdiction depends on the character of the party, reference is made to the party on the record, not to one who may be interested, but is not shown by the record to be a party.
The appellants admit, that the jurisdiction of the Court is not ousted by any incidental or consequential interest, which a State may have in the decision to be made, but is to be considered as a party where the decision acts directly and immediately upon the State, through its officers.
If this question were to be determined on the authority of English decisions, it is believed that no case can be adduced, where any person has been considered as a party, who is not made so in the record. But the Court will not review those decisions, because it is thought a question growing out of the constitution of the United States, requires rather an attentive consideration of the words of that instrument, than of the decisions of analogous questions by the Courts of any other country.
Do the provisions, then, of the American constitution, respecting controversies to which a State may be a party, extend, on a fair construction of that instrument, to cases in which the State is not a party on the record?
The first in the enumeration, is a controversy between two or more States.
There are not many questions in which a State would be supposed to take a deeper or more immediate interest, than in those which decide on the extent of her territory. Yet the constitution, not considering the State as a party to such controversies, if not plaintiff or defendant on the record, has expressly given jurisdiction in those between citizens claiming lands under grants of different States. If each State, in consequence of the influence of a decision on her boundary, had been considered, by the framers of the constitution, as a party to that controversy, the express grant of jurisdiction would have been useless. The grant of it certainly proves, that the constitution does not consider the State as a party in such a case.
Jurisdiction is expressly granted, in those cases only where citizens of the same State claim lands under grants of different States. If the claimants be citizens of different States, the Court takes jurisdiction for that reason. Still, the right of the State to grant, is the essential point in dispute; and in that point the State is deeply interested. If that interest converts the State into a party, there is an end of the cause; and the constitution will be construed to forbid the Circuit Courts to take cognizance of questions to which it was thought necessary expressly to extend their jurisdiction, even when the controversy arose between citizens of the same State.
We are aware, that the application of these causes may be denied, because the title of the State comes on incidentally, and the appellants admit the jurisdiction of the Court, where its judgment does not act directly upon the property or interests of the State; but we deemed it of some importance to show, that the framers of the constitution contemplated the distinction between cases in which a State was interested, and those in which it was a party, and made no provision for a case of interest, without being a party on the record.
In cases where a State is a party on the record, the question of jurisdiction is decided by inspection. If jurisdiction depend, not on this plain fact, but on the interest of the State, what rule has the constitution given, by which this interest is to be measured? If no rule be given, is it to be settled by the Court? If so, the curious anomaly is presented, of a Court examining the whole testimony of a cause, inquiring into, and deciding on, the extent of a State's interest, without having a right to exercise any jurisdiction in the case. Can this inquiry be made without the exercise of jurisdiction?
The next in the enumeration, is a controversy between a State and the citizens of another State.
Can this case arise, if the State be not a party on the record? If it can, the question recurs, what degree of interest shall be sufficient to change the parties, and arrest the proceedings against the individual? Controversies respecting boundary have lately existed between Virginia and Tennessee, between Kentucky and Tennessee, and now exist between New-York and New-Jersey. Suppose, while such a controversy is pending, the collecting officer of one State should seize property for taxes belonging to a man who supposes himself to reside in the other State, and who seeks redress in the federal Court of that State in which the officer resides. The interest of the State is obvious. Yet it is admitted, that in such a case the action would lie, because the officer might be treated as a trespasser, and the verdict and judgment against him would not act directly on the property of the State. That it would not so act, may, perhaps, depend on circumstances. The officer may retain the amount of the taxes in his hands, and, on the proceedings of the State against him, may plead in bar the judgment of a Court of competent jurisdiction. If this plea ought to be sustained, and it is far from being certain that it ought not, the judgment so pleaded would have acted directly on the revenue of the State, in the hands of its officer. And yet the argument admits, that the action, in such a case, would be sustained. But, suppose, in such a case, the party conceiving himself to be injured, instead of bringing an action sounding in damages, should sue for the specific thing, while yet in possession of the seizing officer. It being admitted, in argument, that the action sounding in damages would lie, we are unable to perceive the line of distinction between that and the action of detinue. Yet the latter action would claim the specific article seized for the tax, and would obtain it, should the seizure be deemed unlawful.
It would be tedious to pursue this part of the inquiry farther, and it would be useless, because every person will perceive that the same reasoning is applicable to all the other enumerated controversies to which a State may be a party. The principle may be illustrated by a reference to those other controversies where jurisdiction depends on the party. But, before we review them, we will notice one where the nature of the controversy is, in some degree, blended with the character of the party.
If a suit be brought against a foreign minister, the Supreme Court alone has original jurisdiction, and this is shown on the record. But, suppose a suit to be brought which affects the interest of a foreign minister, or by which the person of his secretary, or of his servant, is arrested. The minister does not, by the mere arrest of his secretary, or his servant, become a party to this suit, but the actual defendant pleads to the jurisdiction of the Court, and asserts his privilege. If the suit affects a foreign minister, it must be dismissed, not because he is a party to it, but because if affects him. The language of the constitution in the two cases is different. This Court can take cognizance of all cases "affecting" foreign ministers; and, therefore, jurisdiction does not depend on the party named in the record. But this language changes, when the enumeration proceeds to States. Why this change? The answer is obvious. In the case of foreign ministers, it was intended, for reasons which all comprehend, to give the national Courts jurisdiction over all cases by which they were in any manner affected. In the case of States, whose immediate or remote interests were mixed up with a multitude of cases, and who might be affected in an almost infinite variety of ways, it was intended to give jurisdiction in those cases only to which they were actual parties.
In proceeding with the cases in which jurisdiction depends on the character of the party, the first in the enumeration is, "controversies to which the United States shall be a party."
Does this provision extend to the cases where the United States are not named in the record, but claim, and are actually entitled to, the whole subject in controversy?
Let us examine this question.
Suits brought by the Postmaster-General are for money due to the United States. The nominal plaintiff has no interest in the controversy, and the United States are the only real party. Yet, these suits could not be instituted in the Courts of the Union, under that clause which gives jurisdiction in all cases to which the United States are a party; and it was found necessary to give the Court jurisdiction over them, as being cases arising under a law of the United States.
The judicial power of the Union is also extended to controversies between citizens of different States; and it has been decided, that the character of the parties must be shown on the record. Does this provision depend on the character of those whose interest is litigated, or of those who are parties on the record? In a suit, for example, brought by or against an executor, the creditors or legatees of his testator are the persons really concerned in interest; but it has never been suspected that, if the executor be a resident of another State, the jurisdiction of the federal Courts could be ousted by the fact, that the creditors or legatees were citizens of the same State with the opposite party. The universally received construction in this case is, that jurisdiction is neither given nor ousted by the relative situation of the parties concerned in interest, but by the relative situation of the parties named on the record. Why is this construction universal? No case can be imagined, in which the existence of an interest out of the party on the record is more unequivocal than in that which has been just stated. Why, then, is it universally admitted, that this interest in no manner affects the jurisdiction of the Court? The plain and obvious answer is, because the jurisdiction of the Court depends, not upon this interest, but upon the actual party on the record.
Were a State to be the sole legatee, it will not, we presume, be alleged, that the jurisdiction of the Court, in a suit against the executor, would be more affected by this fact, than by the fact that any other person, not suable in the Courts of the Union, was the sole legatee. Yet, in such a case, the Court would decide directly and immediately on the interest of the State.
This principle might be further illustrated by showing that jurisdiction, where it depends on the character of the party, is never conferred in consequence of the existence of an interest in a party not named; and by showing that, under the distributive clause of the 2d section of the 3d article, the Supreme Court could never take original jurisdiction, in consequence of an interest in a party not named in the record.
But the principle seems too well established to require that more time should be devoted to it. It may, we think, be laid down as a rule which admits of no exception, that, in all cases where jurisdiction depends on the party, it is the party named in the record. Consequently, the 11th amendment, which restrains the jurisdiction granted by the constitution over suits against States, is, of necessity, limited to those suits in which a State is a party on the record. The amendment has its full effect, if the constitution be construed as it would have been construed, had the jurisdiction of the Court never been extended to suits brought against a State, by the citizens of another State, or by aliens.
The State not being a party on the record, and the Court having jurisdiction over those who are parties on the record, the true question is, not one of jurisdiction, but whether, in the exercise of its jurisdiction, the Court ought to make a decree against the defendants; whether they are to be considered as having a real interest, or as being only nominal parties.
In pursuing the arrangement which the appellants have made for the argument of the cause, this question has already been considered. The responsibility of the officers of the State for the money taken out of the Bank, was admitted, and it was acknowledged that this responsibility might be enforced by the proper action. The objection is, to its being enforced against the specific article taken, and by the decree of this Court. But, it has been shown, we think, that an action of detinue might be maintained for that article, if the Bank had possessed the means of describing it, and that the interest of the State would not have been an obstacle to the suit of the Bank against the individual in possession of it. The judgement in such a suit might have been enforced, had the article been found in possession of the individual defendant. It has been shown, that the danger of its being parted with, of its being lost to the plaintiff, and the necessity of a discovery, justified the application to a Court of equity. It was in a Court of equity alone that the relief would be real, substantial, and effective. The parties must certainly have a real interest in the case, since their personal responsibility is acknowledged, and, if denied, could be demonstrated.
It was proper, then, to make a decree against the defendants in the Circuit Court, if the law of the State of Ohio be repugnant to the constitution, or to a law of the United States made in pursuance thereof, so as to furnish no authority to those who took, or to those who received, the money for which this suit was instituted.
The Founders' Constitution
Volume 5, Amendment XI, Document 4
The University of Chicago Press
Easy to print version.