517 U.S. 44 (1996), 94

Docket NºCase. No. 94
Citation517 U.S. 44, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252, 64 U.S.L.W. 4167
Case DateMarch 27, 1996
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

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517 U.S. 44 (1996)

116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252, 64 U.S.L.W. 4167



FLORIDA et al.

Case. No. 94–12

United States Supreme Court

March 27, 1996

Argued October 11, 1995



The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, passed by Congress pursuant to the Indian Commerce Clause, allows an Indian tribe to conduct certain gaming activities only in conformance with a valid compact between the tribe and the State in which the gaming activities are located. 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(1)(C). Under the Act, States have a duty to negotiate in good faith with a tribe toward the formation of a compact, § 2710(d)(3)(A), and a tribe may sue a State in federal court in order to compel performance of that duty, § 2710(d)(7). In this § 2710(d)(7) suit, respondents, Florida and its Governor, moved to dismiss petitioner Seminole Tribe’s complaint on the ground that the suit violated Florida’s sovereign immunity from suit in federal court. The District Court denied the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the Indian Commerce Clause did not grant Congress the power to abrogate the States’ Eleventh Amendment immunity and that Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, does not permit an Indian tribe to force good-faith negotiations by suing a State’s Governor.


1. The Eleventh Amendment prevents Congress from authorizing suits by Indian tribes against States to enforce legislation enacted pursuant to the Indian Commerce Clause. Pp. 54–73.

(a) The Eleventh Amendment presupposes that each State is a sovereign entity in our federal system and that “ ‘[i]t is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without [a State’s] consent.’ ” Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 13. However, Congress may abrogate the States’ sovereign immunity if it has “unequivocally expresse[d] its intent to abrogate the immunity” and has acted “pursuant to a valid exercise of power.” Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 68. Here, through the numerous references to the “State” in § 2710(d)(7)(B)’s text, Congress provided an “unmistakably clear” statement of its intent to abrogate. Pp. 54–57.

(b) The inquiry into whether Congress has the power to abrogate unilaterally the States’ immunity from suit is narrowly focused on a single question: Was the Act in question passed pursuant to a constitutional provision granting Congress such power? This Court has found authority to abrogate under only two constitutional provisions: the

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Fourteenth Amendment, see, e. g., Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, and, in a plurality opinion, the Interstate Commerce Clause, Pennsylvania v. Union Gas Co., 491 U.S. 1. The Union Gas plurality found that Congress’ power to abrogate came from the States’ cession of their sovereignty when they gave Congress plenary power to regulate commerce. Under the rationale of Union Gas, the Indian Commerce Clause is indistinguishable from the Interstate Commerce Clause. Pp. 57–63.

(c) However, in the five years since it was decided, Union Gas has proved to be a solitary departure from established law. Reconsidering that decision, none of the policies underlying stare decisis require this Court’s continuing adherence to its holding. The decision has been of questionable precedential value, largely because a majority of the Court expressly disagreed with the plurality’s rationale. Moreover, the deeply fractured decision has created confusion among the lower courts that have sought to understand and apply it. The plurality’s rationale also deviated sharply from this Court’s established federalism jurisprudence and essentially eviscerated the Court’s decision in Hans, since the plurality’s conclusion—that Congress could under Article I expand the scope of the federal courts’ Article III jurisdiction—contradicted the fundamental notion that Article III sets forth the exclusive catalog of permissible federal-court jurisdiction. Thus, Union Gas was wrongly decided and is overruled. The Eleventh Amendment restricts the judicial power under Article III, and Article I cannot be used to circumvent the constitutional limitations placed upon federal jurisdiction. Pp. 63–73.

2. The doctrine of Ex parte Young may not be used to enforce § 2710(d)(3) against a state official. That doctrine allows a suit against a state official to go forward, notwithstanding the Eleventh Amendment’s jurisdictional bar, where the suit seeks prospective injunctive relief in order to end a continuing federal-law violation. However, where, as here, Congress has prescribed a detailed remedial scheme for the enforcement against a State of a statutorily created right, a court should hesitate before casting aside those limitations and permitting an Ex parte Young action. The intricate procedures set forth in § 2710(d)(7) show that Congress intended not only to define, but also significantly to limit, the duty imposed by § 2710(d)(3). The Act mandates only a modest set of sanctions against a State, culminating in the Secretary of the Interior prescribing gaming regulations where an agreement is not reached through negotiation or mediation. In contrast, an Ex parte Young action would expose a state official to a federal court’s full remedial powers, including, presumably, contempt sanctions. Enforcement through an Ex parte Young suit would also make § 2710(d)(7) superfluous,

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for it is difficult to see why a tribe would suffer through § 2710(d)(7)’s intricate enforcement scheme if Ex parte Young ’s more complete and more immediate relief were available. The Court is not free to rewrite the statutory scheme in order to approximate what it thinks Congress might have wanted had it known that § 2710(d)(7) was beyond its authority. Pp. 73–76.

11 F.3d 1016, affirmed.

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 76. Souter, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg and Breyer, JJ., joined, post, p. 100.

Bruce S. Rogow argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Beverly A. Pohl, Jerry C. Straus, Michael L. Roy, Judith A. Shapiro, Eugene Gressman, and John J. Gibbons.

Solicitor General Days argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Assistant Attorney General Schiffer, Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, Irving L. Gornstein, Edward J. Shawaker, and Anne S. Almy.

Jonathan A. Glogau, Assistant Attorney General of Florida, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General.[*]

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Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act provides that an Indian tribe may conduct certain gaming activities only in conformance with a valid compact between the tribe and the State in which the gaming activities are located. 102 Stat. 2475, 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(1)(C). The Act, passed by Congress under the Indian Commerce Clause, U.S. Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 3, imposes upon the States a duty to negotiate in good faith with an Indian tribe toward the formation of a compact, § 2710(d)(3)(A), and authorizes a tribe to bring suit in federal court against a State in order to compel performance of that duty, § 2710(d)(7). We hold that notwithstanding Congress’ clear intent to abrogate the States’ sovereign immunity, the Indian Commerce Clause does not grant Congress that power, and therefore § 2710(d)(7) cannot grant jurisdiction over a State that does not consent to be sued. We further hold that the doctrine of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), may not be used to enforce § 2710(d)(3) against a state official.

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Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988 in order to provide a statutory basis for the operation and regulation of gaming by Indian tribes. See 25 U.S.C. § 2702. The Act divides gaming on Indian lands into three classes—I, II, and III—and provides a different regulatory scheme for each class. Class III gaming—the type with which we are here concerned—is defined as “all forms of gaming that are not class I gaming or class II gaming,” § 2703(8), and includes such things as slot machines, casino games, banking card games, dog racing, and lotteries.[1] It is the most heavily regulated of the three classes. The Act provides that class III gaming is lawful only where it is: (1) authorized by an ordinance or resolution that (a) is adopted by the governing body of the Indian tribe, (b) satisfies certain statutorily prescribed requirements, and (c) is approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission; (2) located in a State that permits such gaming for any purpose by any person, organization, or entity; and (3) “conducted in conformance with a Tribal-State compact entered into by the

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Indian tribe and the State under paragraph (3) that is in effect.” § 2710(d)(1).

The “paragraph (3)” to which the last prerequisite of § 2710(d)(1) refers is § 2710(d)(3), which describes the permissible scope of a Tribal-State compact, see § 2710(d)(3)(C), and provides that the compact is effective “only when notice of approval by the Secretary [of the Interior] of such compact has been published by the Secretary in the Federal Register,” § 2710(d)(3)(B). More significant for our purposes, however, is that § 2710(d)(3) describes the process by which a State and an Indian tribe begin negotiations toward a Tribal-State compact:

(A) Any Indian tribe having jurisdiction over the Indian lands upon which a class III gaming activity is being conducted, or is to be conducted, shall request the State in which such lands are located to enter into negotiations for the purpose of entering into a Tribal-State compact governing the conduct of gaming...

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