When Can a State Be Sued?
In her Popular Government article “When You Can’t Sue the State: State
Sovereign Immunity” (Summer 2000), Anita R. Brown-Graham described
a series of recent decisions in which a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court
barred individuals from suing states for money damages for certain violations
of federal law, such as laws prohibiting discrimination against employees
because of their age. In the response that follows, William Van Alstyne
argues that this barrier to relief is neither unduly imposing nor novel. The
debate over the significance of these decisions is likely to continue. In
February 2001, in another case decided by a five-to-four vote (Board of
Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett), the Supreme Court again
barred an individual’s suit for damages against a state entity, this time for a
violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.