Ex Parte Young
35 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2007
Date Written: July 12, 2007
Ex parte Young does not represent an exception to ordinary principles of sovereign immunity, it does not employ a legal fiction, it does not imply a novel cause of action under the Constitution or other federal law, and it does not create a paradox by treating officers as state actors for one purpose and private persons for another. All those bits of conventional wisdom are wrong for the same reason: Young was about a traditional tool of equity, the injunction to restrain proceedings at law, or anti-suit injunction. By seeking an anti-suit injunction, a potential defendant at law can become a plaintiff in equity and present a defense in an affirmative posture. Asserting defenses against the government, like the railroads' constitutional defenses at issue in Young, does not offend sovereign immunity, so it does not require a fiction to cover up a violation of sovereign immunity. Anti-suit injunctions have long been a standard tool of equity and so in approving one the Court in Young did not recognize a novel cause of action applicable only to government officers, and for that reason did not encounter a paradox. This article elaborates on the argument just described, discusses the extent to which the opinion in Ex parte Young reflects the fact that it involved an anti-suit injunction, and briefly considers the contemporary implications of this way of understanding this foundational case.
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