The Appropriations Power and Sovereign Immunity

63 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2008 Last revised: 17 Feb 2011

See all articles by Jay Tidmarsh

Jay Tidmarsh

Notre Dame Law School

Paul Figley

American University - Washington College of Law

Date Written: September 19, 2008


Discussions of sovereign immunity assume that the Constitution contains no explicit text regarding sovereign immunity. As a result, arguments about the existence - or nonexistence - of sovereign immunity begin with the English and American common-law doctrines. Exploring political, fiscal, and legal developments in England and the American colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this Article shows that focusing on common-law developments is misguided. The common-law approach to sovereign immunity ended in the early 1700s. The Bankers’ Case (1690–1700), which is often regarded as the first modern common-law treatment of sovereign immunity, is in fact the last in the line of English common-law decisions on sovereign immunity. After (and in part because of) the Bankers’ Case, settling claims against the Crown became a function of Parliament, swept up within its newly won powers over finance and appropriations. After examining comparable developments in the American colonies and during the Confederation period and the formation of the Constitution, the Article demonstrates that the Appropriations Clause embedded in the Constitution the principle of congressional supremacy - and a resulting lack of judicial power - over monetary claims against the United States, a point recognized by early cases and commentators. As such, the Appropriations Clause provides a textual basis for the federal government’s immunity from suits on claims seeking money damages.

Keywords: Constitutional Law, Federal Courts, Legal History, Sovereign Immunity, Appropriations Clause

Suggested Citation

Tidmarsh, Jay and Figley, Paul, The Appropriations Power and Sovereign Immunity (September 19, 2008). Michigan Law Review, Vol. 107, No. 7, 2009, Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 08-28, American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2009-16, Available at SSRN:

Jay Tidmarsh (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0399
United States
574-631-6985 (Phone)
574-631-4197 (Fax)

Paul Figley

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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