Closing the Gap: The Fourth Circuit's Narrowing of the Ex Parte Young Exception in Virginia v. Reinhard and the Implications for Administrative Law
Harrison Mann Gates
University of Richmond
January 21, 2010
The legal debate over state sovereign immunity has persisted practically since the founding. Under the sovereign immunity doctrine, states cannot be sued without their consent even for violations of the Constitution or federal law. Sovereign immunity, thus, kindles the lasting tension between the supposed supremacy of federal law and the separate sovereignty of the states. Since its initial recognition of state sovereign immunity in Hans v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court has recognized several exceptions to the doctrine designed to secure state compliance with federal law. One such exception is the Ex Parte Young doctrine. In Ex Parte Young, the Court announced that individual state citizens could bring suit against state officers in federal court for an ongoing violation of federal law. In recent decades, however, the Supreme Court has vastly expanded the bar of sovereign immunity as an integral part of the “federalist revival” begun by the Rehnquist Court. The Court recently has incorporated the “anti-commandeering” principles from parallel federalism cases into its sovereign immunity jurisprudence, resulting in a significant narrowing of federal judicial power to hear claims against the states. In Virginia v. Reinhard, the Fourth Circuit confronted a question of first impression about the applicability of the Ex Parte Young exception. That case presented the issue of whether a state administrative agency could bring suit in federal court against another state agency to secure its compliance with federal law. In holding that the agency could not bring suit under Ex Parte Young, the Court of Appeals issued a decision with major implications for administrative law and how state agencies may enforce state compliance with federal regulatory schemes. This paper ultimately concludes that Reinhard merely constitutes a natural extension of the sound theoretical principles announced in the Supreme Court’s most recent sovereign immunity cases. Moreover, the practical consequences for state agency enforcement of federal regulatory schemes will be minimal because of the remaining avenues available for enforcing federal rights.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 48
Keywords: sovereign immunity, Ex Parte Young, Virginia v. Reinhard, anti-commandeering
JEL Classification: K1, K2, K10, K19, K23, K29
Date posted: January 23, 2010 ; Last revised: February 12, 2010
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