• Last updated on November 11, 2022

This Supreme Court decision, reached by a conservative majority, protected states from class-action suits by citizens alleging that these states were undermining federal legislation by granting them benefits too late.

John Jordan sued Illinois by suing various of its state and county officials, asserting they were paying out benefits later than federal law mandated and therefore violating the Fourteenth Amendment rights of the beneficiaries. A federal district court agreed and ordered retroactive payments to the class-action beneficiaries. Illinois appealed and lost in the court of appeals. However, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Illinois. In the 5-4 majority decision written by Justice William H. Rehnquist,Rehnquist, William H.;Edelman v. Jordan[Edelman v. Jordan] the Court ruled that Illinois did not waive its Eleventh Amendment rights by participating in the federal program and that the Eleventh Amendment prohibited within limits federal court lawsuits against a state without the state’s consent brought by citizens of that state or of other states. The Court reasoned that although Ex parte Young[case]Young, Ex parte[Young, Ex parte] (1908) allowed injunctions against states in matters affecting future policies, it did not permit suits for retroactive payments.Eleventh Amendment;Edelman v. Jordan[Edelman v. Jordan]

Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller, center front, presides over his Court. Clockwise from Fuller, the justices are Stephen J. Field, Horace Gray, Howell E. Jackson, Henry B. Brown, George Shiras, Jr., Edward D. White, David J. Brewer, and John Marshall Harlan. Fuller’s ruling in United States v. E. C. Knight Co. eviscerated the Sherman Antitrust Act.

(C. M. Bell/Collection of the Supremem Court of the United States)

Justices William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall wrote separate dissents, and Justice Harry A. Blackmun joined Marshall. These dissenting justices opposed the majority holdings on more than one front. Later decisions limited the impact of Edelman and allowed Congress to circumvent this state immunity issue.

Federalism

General welfare clause

Young, Ex parte

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