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April 19, 2011
SCOTUS Decision in Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy v. Stewart
Today the Supreme Court decided Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy v. Stewart (No. 09-529). Per Justice Scalia’s majority opinion (joined by Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor), the case “consider[s] whether Ex parte Young, 209 U. S. 123 (1908), allows a federal court to hear a lawsuit for prospective relief against state officials brought by another agency of the same State.” The answer:
Although we have never encountered such a suit before, we are satisfied that entertaining VOPA's [the state agency’s] action is consistent with our precedents and does not offend the distinctive interests protected by sovereign immunity.
In conclusion, Justice Scalia writes:
[W]e are mindful of the central role autonomous States play in our federal system, and wary of approving new encroachments on their sovereignty. But we conclude no such encroachment is occasioned by straightforwardly applying Ex parte Young to allow this suit. It was Virginia law that created VOPA and gave it the power to sue state officials. In that circumstance, the Eleventh Amendment presents no obstacle to VOPA’s ability to invoke federal jurisdiction on the same terms as any other litigant.
Justice Kennedy writes a concurring opinion joined by Justice Thomas. Chief Justice Roberts writes a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Alito. Justice Kagan took no part.