Alden v. Maine: The Background
The case of Alden v. Maine was a landmark decision rendered by the United States Supreme Court. The case looked at whether the United States Congress was allowed to use its Article One powers to repeal a state’s sovereign immunity from suits in its own court system, thereby permitting citizens to sue states without the state’s consent. The case of Alden v. Maine was argued on March 31st of 1999 and decided on June 23rd of 1999.
The core of the case revolved around a group of probation officers who sued the state of Maine (their employer) in 1992. The probation officers alleged that the state violated the overtime provisions of the 1938 Labor Standards Act.
The court system, to render a decision, used the previously-decided Seminole Tribe v. Florida ruling which held that individual states are immune from private suits in a federal court setting and that Congress does not have the power to dismiss the case in the Federal District Court. In addition to this ruling, the state trial court and the state’s Supreme Court held that Maine possessed sovereign immunity and therefore could not be sued by private parties within their own court system.
Alden v. Maine: The Question
The question revolving around Alden v. Maine asked whether the United States Congress may use its powers under Article 1 of the Constitution to repeal a state’s sovereign immunity from private suits in its own court system.
Alden v. Maine: The Decision
The decision laid forth in Alden v. Maine was decided in a 5 to 4 vote for the state of Maine. The Supreme Court of the United States in Alden v. Maine was a sharply decided contest, which ultimately held that Congress may not use its Article 1 powers to repeal a state’s sovereign immunity. Both the history and the terms of the eleventh amendment to the United States Constitution suggest that individual states are immune from suits filed in their own courts. As a more general statement, the original understanding of the U.S. Constitution’s structure and the provisions of the tenth amendment affirm that individual states retained the bulk of their sovereignty despite their agreement in that the federal government would be supreme when exercising its enumerated powers.