Ex Parte Young and the Uses of History
27 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2011 Last revised: 31 Aug 2011
Date Written: May 24, 2011
Ex parte Young, an iconic decision that recently celebrated its centennial, was not very well-received at birth but most scholars, now and in the recent past, agree that the case was correctly decided. Yet the range of justifications for the result, and the analyses of its implications, are strikingly diverse. (The disagreements about its significance are exemplified by the three opinions in the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Va. Office for Prot. & Advocacy v. Stewart.)
How can such a range of views exist about so famous and esteemed a decision – a debate that extends to such matters as its rationale, its novelty, and even the proper characterization of its holding, the lessons it teaches about state-federal relations, and the proper role of the federal courts? And what, if anything, does this tell us about the nature of legal scholarship? These are the questions addressed in this article. Briefly stated, the conclusions reached are that over-reading of the case by scholars and courts has led to a backlash in which the case has been undervalued, and that arguments about what the case “really” stands for tend to mask more important questions about both the substance and the process of constitutional interpretation.
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