Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt/Opinion of the Court

Notice: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.


No. 17–1299

[May 13, 2019]

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court. This case, now before us for the third time, requires us to decide whether the Constitution permits a State to be sued by a private party without its consent in the courts of a different State. We hold that it does not and overrule our decision to the contrary in Nevada v. Hall, 440 U. S. 410 (1979).


In the early 1990s, respondent Gilbert Hyatt earned substantial income from a technology patent for a computer formed on a single integrated circuit chip. Although Hyatt’s claim was later canceled, see Hyatt v. Boone, 146 F. 3d 1348 (CA Fed. 1998), his royalties in the interim totaled millions of dollars. Prior to receiving the patent, Hyatt had been a long-time resident of California. But in 1991, Hyatt sold his house in California and rented an apartment, registered to vote, obtained insurance, opened a bank account, and acquired a driver’s license in Nevada. When he filed his 1991 and 1992 tax returns, he claimed Nevada—which collects no personal income tax, see Nev. Const., Art. 10, §1(9)—as his primary place of residence.

Petitioner Franchise Tax Board of California (Board), the state agency responsible for assessing personal income tax, suspected that Hyatt’s move was a sham. Thus, in 1993, the Board launched an audit to determine whether Hyatt underpaid his 1991 and 1992 state income taxes by misrepresenting his residency. In the course of the audit, employees of the Board traveled to Nevada to conduct interviews with Hyatt’s estranged family members and shared his personal information with business contacts. In total, the Board sent more than 100 letters and demands for information to third parties. The Board ultimately concluded that Hyatt had not moved to Nevada until April 1992 and owed California more than $10 million in back taxes, interest, and penalties. Hyatt protested the audit before the Board, which upheld the audit after an 11-year administrative proceeding. The appeal of that decision remains pending before the California Office of Tax Appeals.

In 1998, Hyatt sued the Board in Nevada state court for torts he alleged the agency committed during the audit. After the trial court denied in part the Board’s motion for summary judgment, the Board petitioned the Nevada Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus ordering dismissal on the ground that the State of California was immune from suit. The Board argued that, under the Full Faith and Credit Clause, Nevada courts must apply California’s statute immunizing the Board from liability for all injuries caused by its tax collection. See U. S. Const., Art. IV, §1; Cal. Govt. Code Ann. §860.2 (West 1995). The Nevada Supreme Court rejected that argument and held that, under general principles of comity, the Board was entitled to the same immunity that Nevada law afforded Nevada agencies—that is, immunity for negligent but not intentional torts. We granted certiorari and unanimously affirmed, holding that the Full Faith and Credit Clause did not prohibit Nevada from applying its own immunity law to the case. Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Hyatt, 538 U. S. 488, 498–499 (2003) (Hyatt I.). Because the Board did not ask us to overrule Nevada v. Hall, supra, we did not revisit that decision. Hyatt I., supra, at 497.

On remand, the trial court conducted a 4-month jury trial that culminated in a verdict for Hyatt that, with prejudgment interest and costs, exceeded $490 million. On appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court rejected most of the damages awarded by the lower court, upholding only a $1 million judgment on one of Hyatt’s claims and remanding for a new damages trial on another. Although the court recognized that tort liability for Nevada state agencies was capped at $50,000 under state law, it nonetheless held that Nevada public policy precluded it from applying that limitation to the California agency in this case. We again granted certiorari and this time reversed, holding that the Full Faith and Credit Clause required Nevada courts to grant the Board the same immunity that Nevada agencies enjoy. Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Hyatt, 578 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2016) (slip op., at 4–9) (Hyatt II.). Although the question was briefed and argued, the Court was equally divided on whether to overrule Hall and thus affirmed the jurisdiction of the Nevada Supreme Court. Hyatt II., supra, at ___ (slip op., at 1). On remand, the Nevada Supreme Court instructed the trial court to enter damages in accordance with the statutory cap for Nevada agencies. 133 Nev. ___, 407 P. 3d 717 (2017).

We granted, for a third time, the Board’s petition for certiorari, 585 U. S. ___ (2018). The sole question presented is whether Nevada v. Hall should be overruled.[1]


Nevada v. Hall is contrary to our constitutional design and the understanding of sovereign immunity shared by the States that ratified the Constitution. Stare decisis does not compel continued adherence to this erroneous precedent. We therefore overrule Hall and hold that States retain their sovereign immunity from private suits brought in the courts of other States.


Hall held that the Constitution does not bar private suits against a State in the courts of another State. 440 U. S., at 416–421. The opinion conceded that States were immune from such actions at the time of the founding, but it nonetheless concluded that nothing “implicit in the Constitution” requires States “to adhere to the sovereign-immunity doctrine as it prevailed when the Constitution was adopted.” Id., at 417–418, 424–427. Instead, the Court concluded that the Founders assumed that “prevailing notions of comity would provide adequate protection against the unlikely prospect of an attempt by the courts of one State to assert jurisdiction over another.” Id., at 419. The Court’s view rested primarily on the idea that the States maintained sovereign immunity vis-à-vis each other in the same way that foreign nations do, meaning that immunity is available only if the forum State “voluntar[ily]” decides “to respect the dignity of the [defendant State] as a matter of comity.” Id., at 416; see also id., at 424–427.

The Hall majority was unpersuaded that the Constitution implicitly altered the relationship between the States. In the Court’s view, the ratification debates, the Eleventh Amendment, and our sovereign-immunity precedents did not bear on the question because they “concerned questions of federal-court jurisdiction.” Id., at 420. The Court also found unpersuasive the fact that the Constitution delineates several limitations on States’ authority, such as Article I powers granted exclusively to Congress and Article IV requirements imposed on States. Id., at 425. Despite acknowledging “that ours is not a union of 50 wholly independent sovereigns,” Hall inferred from the lack of an express sovereign immunity granted to the States and from the Tenth Amendment that the States retained the power in their own courts to deny immunity to other States. Ibid.

Chief Justice Burger, Justice Blackmun, and Justice Rehnquist dissented.


Hall’s determination that the Constitution does not contemplate sovereign immunity for each State in a sister State’s courts misreads the historical record and misapprehends the “implicit ordering of relationships within the federal system necessary to make the Constitution a workable governing charter and to give each provision within that document the full effect intended by the Framers.” Id., at 433 (Rehnquist, J., dissenting). As Chief Justice Marshall explained, the Founders did not state every postulate on which they formed our Republic—“we must never forget, that it is a constitution we are expounding.” McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 407 (1819). And although the Constitution assumes that the States retain their sovereign immunity except as otherwise provided, it also fundamentally adjusts the States’ relationship with each other and curtails their ability, as sovereigns, to decline to recognize each other’s immunity.


After independence, the States considered themselves fully sovereign nations. As the Colonies proclaimed in 1776, they were “Free and Independent States” with “full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.” Declaration of Independence ¶4. Under international law, then, independence “entitled” the Colonies “to all the rights and powers of sovereign states.” McIlvaine v. Coxe’s Lessee, 4 Cranch 209, 212 (1808).

“An integral component” of the States’ sovereignty was “their immunity from private suits.” Federal Maritime Comm’n v. South Carolina Ports Authority, 535 U. S. 743, 751–752 (2002); see Alden v. Maine, 527 U. S. 706, 713 (1999) (“[A]s the Constitution’s structure, its history, and the authoritative interpretations by this Court make clear, the States’ immunity from suit is a fundamental aspect of the sovereignty which the States enjoyed before the ratification of the Constitution, and which they retain today…”). This fundamental aspect of the States’ “inviolable sovereignty” was well established and widely accepted at the founding. The Federalist No. 39, p. 245 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961) (J. Madison); see Alden, supra, at 715–716 (“[T]he doctrine that a sovereign could not be sued without its consent was universal in the States when the Constitution was drafted and ratified”). As Alexander Hamilton explained:

“It is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of an individual without its consent. This is the general sense and the general practice of mankind; and the exemption, as one of the attributes of sovereignty, is now enjoyed by the government of every State in the Union.” The Federalist No. 81, at 487 (emphasis deleted).

The Founders believed that both “common law sovereign immunity” and “law-of-nations sovereign immunity” prevented States from being amenable to process in any court without their consent. See Pfander, Rethinking the Supreme Court’s Original Jurisdiction in State-Party Cases,82 Cal. L. Rev. 555, 581–588 (1994); see also Nelson, Sovereign Immunity as a Doctrine of Personal Jurisdiction, 115 Harv. L. Rev. 1559, 1574–1579 (2002). The common-law rule was that “no suit or action can be brought against the king, even in civil matters, because no court can have jurisdiction over him.” 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 235 (1765) (Blackstone). The law-of-nations rule followed from the “perfect equality and absolute independence of sovereigns” under that body of international law. Schooner Exchange v. McFaddon, 7 Cranch 116, 137 (1812); see C. Phillipson, Wheaton’s Elements of International Law 261 (5th ed. 1916) (recognizing that sovereigns “enjoy equality before international law”); 1 J. Kent, Commentaries on American Law 20 (G. Comstock ed. 1867). According to the founding era’s foremost expert on the law of nations, “[i]t does not… belong to any foreign power to take cognisance of the administration of [another] sovereign, to set himself up for a judge of his conduct, and to oblige him to alter it.” 2 E. de Vattel, The Law of Nations §55, p. 155 (J. Chitty ed. 1883). The sovereign is “exemp[t]… from all [foreign] jurisdiction.” 4 id., §108, at 486.

The founding generation thus took as given that States could not be haled involuntarily before each other’s courts. See Woolhandler, Interstate Sovereign Immunity, 2006 S. Ct. Rev. 249, 254–259. This understanding is perhaps best illustrated by preratification examples. In 1781, a creditor named Simon Nathan tried to recover a debt that Virginia allegedly owed him by attaching some of its property in Philadelphia. James Madison and other Virginia delegates to the Confederation Congress responded by sending a communique to Pennsylvania requesting that its executive branch have the action dismissed. See Letter from Virginia Delegates to Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania (July 9, 1781), in 3 The Papers of James Madison, 184–185 (W. Hutchinson & W. Rachal eds. 1963). As Madison framed it, the Commonwealth’s property could not be attached by process issuing from a court of “any other State in the Union.” Id., at 184. To permit otherwise would require Virginia to “abandon its Sovereignty by descending to answer before the Tribunal of another Power.” Ibid. Pennsylvania Attorney General William Bradford intervened, urging the Court of Common Pleas to dismiss the action. See Nathan v. Virginia, 1 Dall. 77, 78 (C. P. Phila. Cty. 1781). According to Bradford, the suit violated international law because “all sovereigns are in a state of equality and independence, exempt from each other’s jurisdiction.” Ibid. “[A]ll jurisdiction implies superiority over the party,” Bradford argued, “but there could be no superiority” between the States, and thus no jurisdiction, because the States were “perfect[ly] equa[l]” and “entire[ly] independen[t].” Ibid. The court agreed and refused to grant Nathan the writ of attachment. Id., at 80.

Similarly, a Pennsylvania Admiralty Court that very same year dismissed a libel action against a South Carolina warship, brought by its crew to recover unpaid wages. The court reasoned that the vessel was owned by a “sovereign independent state.” Moitez v. The South Carolina, 17 F. Cas. 574 (No. 9697) (1781).

The Founders were well aware of the international-law immunity principles behind these cases. Federalists and Antifederalists alike agreed in their preratification debates that States could not be sued in the courts of other States. One Federalist, who argued that Article III would waive the States’ immunity in federal court, admitted that the waiver was desirable because of the “impossibility of calling a sovereign state before the jurisdiction of another sovereign state.” 3 Debates on the Constitution 549 (J. Elliot ed. 1876) (Pendleton) (Elliot’s Debates). Two of the most prominent Antifederalists—Federal Farmer and Brutus—disagreed with the Federalists about the desirability of a federal forum in which States could be sued, but did so for the very reason that the States had previously been “subject to no such actions” in any court and were not “oblige[d]” “to answer to an individual in a court of law.” Federal Farmer No. 3 (Oct. 10, 1787), in 4 The Founders’ Constitution 227 (P. Kurland & R. Lerner eds. 1987). They found it “humiliating and degrading” that a State might have to answer “the suit of an individual.” Brutus No. 13 (Feb. 21, 1788), in id., at 238.

In short, at the time of the founding, it was well settled that States were immune under both the common law and the law of nations. The Constitution’s use of the term “States” reflects both of these kinds of traditional immunity. And the States retained these aspects of sovereignty, “except as altered by the plan of the Convention or certain constitutional Amendments.” Alden, 527 U. S., at 713.


One constitutional provision that abrogated certain aspects of this traditional immunity was Article III, which provided a neutral federal forum in which the States agreed to be amenable to suits brought by other States. Art. III, §2; see Alden, supra, at 755. “The establishment of a permanent tribunal with adequate authority to determine controversies between the States, in place of an inadequate scheme of arbitration, was essential to the peace of the Union.” Principality of Monaco v. Mississippi, 292 U. S. 313, 328 (1934). As James Madison explained during the Convention debates, “there can be no impropriety in referring such disputes” between coequal sovereigns to a superior tribunal. Elliot’s Debates 532. The States, in ratifying the Constitution, similarly surrendered a portion of their immunity by consenting to suits brought against them by the United States in federal courts. See Monaco, supra, at 328; Federal Maritime Comm’n, 535 U. S., at 752. “While that jurisdiction is not conferred by the Constitution in express words, it is inherent in the constitutional plan.” Monaco, supra, at 329. Given that “all jurisdiction implies superiority of power,” Blackstone 235, the only forums in which the States have consented to suits by one another and by the Federal Government are Article III courts. See Federal Maritime Comm’n, supra, at 752.

The Antifederalists worried that Article III went even further by extending the federal judicial power over controversies “between a State and Citizens of another State.” They suggested that this provision implicitly waived the States’ sovereign immunity against private suits in federal courts. But “[t]he leading advocates of the Constitution assured the people in no uncertain terms” that this reading was incorrect. Alden, 527 U. S., at 716; see id., at 716–718 (citing arguments by Hamilton, Madison, and John Marshall). According to Madison:

“[A federal court’s] jurisdiction in controversies between a state and citizens of another state is much objected to, and perhaps without reason. It is not in the power of individuals to call any state into court. The only operation it can have, is that, if a state should wish to bring a suit against a citizen, it must be brought before the federal court. This will give satisfaction to individuals, as it will prevent citizens, on whom a state may have a claim, being dissatisfied with the state courts.” Elliot’s Debates 533.

John Marshall echoed these sentiments:

“With respect to disputes between a state and the citizens of another state, its jurisdiction has been decried with unusual vehemence. I hope no gentleman will think that a state will be called at the bar of the federal court…. The intent is, to enable states to recover claims of individuals residing in other states. I contend this construction is warranted by the words.” Id., at 555 (emphasis in original).

Not long after the founding, however, the Antifederalists’ fears were realized. In Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419 (1793), the Court held that Article III allowed the very suits that the “Madison–Marshall–Hamilton triumvirate” insisted it did not. Hall, 440 U. S., at 437 (Rehnquist, J., dissenting). That decision precipitated an immediate “furor” and “uproar” across the country. 1 J. Goebel, Antecedents and Beginnings to 1801, History of the Supreme Court of the United States 734, 737 (1971); see id., at 734–741. Congress and the States accordingly acted swiftly to remedy the Court’s blunder by drafting and ratifying the Eleventh Amendment.[2] See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U. S. 651, 660–662 (1974); see also Federal Maritime Comm’n, supra, at 753 (acknowledging that Chisholm was incorrect); Alden, supra, at 721–722 (same).

The Eleventh Amendment confirmed that the Constitution was not meant to “rais[e] up” any suits against the States that were “anomalous and unheard of when the Constitution was adopted.” Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U. S. 1, 18 (1890). Although the terms of that Amendment address only “the specific provisions of the Constitution that had raised concerns during the ratification debates and formed the basis of the Chisholm decision,” the “natural inference” from its speedy adoption is that “the Constitution was understood, in light of its history and structure, to preserve the States’ traditional immunity from private suits.” Alden, supra, at 723–724. We have often emphasized that “[t]he Amendment is rooted in a recognition that the States, although a union, maintain certain attributes of sovereignty, including sovereign immunity.” Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U. S. 139, 146 (1993). In proposing the Amendment, “Congress acted not to change but to restore the original constitutional design.” Alden, 527 U. S., at 722. The “sovereign immunity of the States,” we have said, “neither derives from, nor is limited by, the terms of the Eleventh Amendment.” Id., at 713.

Consistent with this understanding of state sovereign immunity, this Court has held that the Constitution bars suits against nonconsenting States in a wide range of cases. See, e. g., Federal Maritime Comm’n, supra (actions by private parties before federal administrative agencies); Alden, supra (suits by private parties against a State in its own courts); Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak, 501 U. S. 775 (1991) (suits by Indian tribes in federal court); Monaco, 292 U. S. 313 (suits by foreign states in federal court); Ex parte New York, 256 U. S. 490 (1921) (admiralty suits by private parties in federal court); Smith v. Reeves, 178 U. S. 436 (1900) (suits by federal corporations in federal court).


Despite this historical evidence that interstate sovereign immunity is preserved in the constitutional design, Hyatt insists that such immunity exists only as a “matter of comity” and can be disregarded by the forum State. Hall, supra, at 416. He reasons that, before the Constitution was ratified, the States had the power of fully independent nations to deny immunity to fellow sovereigns; thus, the States must retain that power today with respect to each other because “nothing in the Constitution or formation of the Union altered that balance among the still-sovereign states.” Brief for Respondent 14. Like the majority in Hall, he relies primarily on our early foreign immunity decisions. For instance, he cites Schooner Exchange v. McFaddon, in which the Court dismissed a libel action against a French warship docked in Philadelphia because, under the law of nations, a sovereign’s warships entering the ports of a friendly nation are exempt from the jurisdiction of its courts. 7 Cranch, at 145–146. But whether the host nation respects that sovereign immunity, Chief Justice Marshall noted, is for the host nation to decide, for “[t]he jurisdiction of [a] nation within its own territory is necessarily exclusive and absolute” and “is susceptible of no limitation not imposed by itself.” Id., at 136. Similar reasoning is found in The Santissima Trinidad, 7 Wheat. 283, 353 (1822), where Justice Story noted that the host nation’s consent to provide immunity “may be withdrawn upon notice at any time, without just offence.”

The problem with Hyatt’s argument is that the Constitution affirmatively altered the relationships between the States, so that they no longer relate to each other solely as foreign sovereigns. Each State’s equal dignity and sovereignty under the Constitution implies certain constitutional “limitation[s] on the sovereignty of all of its sister States.” World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U. S. 286, 293 (1980). One such limitation is the inability of one State to hale another into its courts without the latter’s consent. The Constitution does not merely allow States to afford each other immunity as a matter of comity; it embeds interstate sovereign immunity within the constitutional design. Numerous provisions reflect this reality.

To begin, Article I divests the States of the traditional diplomatic and military tools that foreign sovereigns possess. Specifically, the States can no longer prevent or remedy departures from customary international law because the Constitution deprives them of the independent power to lay imposts or duties on imports and exports, to enter into treaties or compacts, and to wage war. Compare Art. I, §10, with Declaration of Independence ¶4 (asserting the power to “levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, [and] establish Commerce”); see Kansas v. Colorado, 185 U. S. 125, 143 (1902).

Article IV also imposes duties on the States not required by international law. The Court’s Full Faith and Credit Clause precedents, for example, demand that state-court judgments be accorded full effect in other States and preclude States from “adopt[ing] any policy of hostility to the public Acts” of other States. Hyatt II., 578 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 5) (internal quotation marks omitted); see Art. IV, §1. States must also afford citizens of each State “all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States” and honor extradition requests upon “Demand of the executive Authority of the State” from which the fugitive fled. Art. IV, §2. Foreign sovereigns cannot demand these kinds of reciprocal responsibilities absent consent or compact. But the Constitution imposes them as part of its transformation of the States from a loose league of friendship into a perpetual Union based on the “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty among the States.” Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U. S. 529, 544 (2013) (emphasis in original and internal quotation marks omitted).

The Constitution also reflects implicit alterations to the States’ relationships with each other, confirming that they are no longer fully independent nations. See New Hampshire v. Louisiana, 108 U. S. 76, 90 (1883). For example, States may not supply rules of decision governing “disputes implicating the[ir] conflicting rights.” Texas Industries, Inc. v. Radcliff Materials, Inc., 451 U. S. 630, 641 (1981). Thus, no State can apply its own law to interstate disputes over borders, Cissna v. Tennessee, 246 U. S. 289, 295 (1918), water rights, Hinderlider v. La Plata River & Cherry Creek Ditch Co., 304 U. S. 92, 110 (1938), or the interpretation of interstate compacts, Petty v. Tennessee–Missouri Bridge Comm’n, 359 U. S. 275, 278–279 (1959). The States would have had the raw power to apply their own law to such matters before they entered the Union, but the Constitution implicitly forbids that exercise of power because the “interstate… nature of the controversy makes it inappropriate for state law to control.” Texas Industries, supra, at 641. Some subjects that were decided by pure “political power” before ratification now turn on federal “rules of law.” Rhode Island v. Massachusetts, 12 Pet. 657, 737 (1838). See Clark, Federal Common Law: A Structural Reinterpretation, 144 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1245, 1322–1331 (1996).

Interstate sovereign immunity is similarly integral to the structure of the Constitution. Like a dispute over borders or water rights, a State’s assertion of compulsory judicial process over another State involves a direct conflict between sovereigns. The Constitution implicitly strips States of any power they once had to refuse each other sovereign immunity, just as it denies them the power to resolve border disputes by political means. Interstate immunity, in other words, is “implied as an essential component of federalism.” Hall, 440 U. S., at 430–431 (Blackmun, J., dissenting).

Hyatt argues that we should find no right to sovereign immunity in another State’s courts because no constitutional provision explicitly grants that immunity. But this is precisely the type of “ahistorical literalism” that we have rejected when “interpreting the scope of the States’ sovereign immunity since the discredited decision in Chisholm.” Alden, 527 U. S., at 730; see id., at 736 (“[T]he bare text of the Amendment is not an exhaustive description of the States’ constitutional immunity from suit”). In light of our constitutional structure, the historical understanding of state immunity, and the swift enactment of the Eleventh Amendment after the Court departed from this understanding in Chisholm, “[i]t is not rational to suppose that the sovereign power should be dragged before a court.” Elliot’s Debates 555 (Marshall). Indeed, the spirited historical debate over Article III courts and the immediate reaction to Chisholm make little sense if the Eleventh Amendment were the only source of sovereign immunity and private suits against the States could already be brought in “partial, local tribunals.” Elliot’s Debates 532 (Madison). Nor would the Founders have objected so strenuously to a neutral federal forum for private suits against States if they were open to a State being sued in a different State’s courts. Hyatt’s view thus inverts the Founders’ concerns about state-court parochialism. Hall, supra, at 439 (Rehnquist, J., dissenting).

Moreover, Hyatt’s ahistorical literalism proves too much. There are many other constitutional doctrines that are not spelled out in the Constitution but are nevertheless implicit in its structure and supported by historical practice—including, for example, judicial review, Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 176–180 (1803); intergovernmental tax immunity, McCulloch, 4 Wheat., at 435–436; executive privilege, United States v. Nixon, 418 U. S. 683, 705–706 (1974); executive immunity, Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U. S. 731, 755–758 (1982); and the President’s removal power, Myers v. United States, 272 U. S. 52, 163–164 (1926). Like these doctrines, the States’ sovereign immunity is a historically rooted principle embedded in the text and structure of the Constitution.


With the historical record and precedent against him, Hyatt defends Hall on the basis of stare decisis. But stare decisis is “‘not an inexorable command,’” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U. S. 223, 233 (2009), and we have held that it is “at its weakest when we interpret the Constitution because our interpretation can be altered only by constitutional amendment,” Agostini v. Felton, 521 U. S. 203, 235 (1997). The Court’s precedents identify a number of factors to consider, four of which warrant mention here: the quality of the decision’s reasoning; its consistency with related decisions; legal developments since the decision; and reliance on the decision. See Janus v. State, County, and Municipal Employees, 585 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2018) (slip op., at 34–35); United States v. Gaudin, 515 U. S. 506, 521 (1995).

The first three factors support our decision to overrule Hall. We have already explained that Hall failed to account for the historical understanding of state sovereign immunity and that it failed to consider how the deprivation of traditional diplomatic tools reordered the States’ relationships with one another. We have also demonstrated that Hall stands as an outlier in our sovereign-immunity jurisprudence, particularly when compared to more recent decisions.

As to the fourth factor, we acknowledge that some plaintiffs, such as Hyatt, have relied on Hall by suing sovereign States. Because of our decision to overrule Hall, Hyatt unfortunately will suffer the loss of two decades of litigation expenses and a final judgment against the Board for its egregious conduct. But in virtually every case that overrules a controlling precedent, the party relying on that precedent will incur the loss of litigation expenses and a favorable decision below. Those case-specific costs are not among the reliance interests that would persuade us to adhere to an incorrect resolution of an important constitutional question.


Nevada v. Hall is irreconcilable with our constitutional structure and with the historical evidence showing a widespread preratification understanding that States retained immunity from private suits, both in their own courts and in other courts. We therefore overrule that decision. Because the Board is thus immune from Hyatt’s suit in Nevada’s courts, the judgment of the Nevada Supreme Court is reversed, and the case is remanded for proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.


  1. Hyatt argues that the law-of-the-case doctrine precludes our review of this question, but he failed to raise that nonjurisdictional issue in his brief in opposition. We therefore deem this argument waived. See this Court’s Rule 15.2; Arizona v. California, 460 U. S. 605, 618 (1983) (“Law of the case directs a court’s discretion, it does not limit the tribunal’s power”). We also reject Hyatt’s argument that the Board waived its immunity. The Board has raised an immunity-based argument from this suit’s inception, though it was initially based on the Full Faith and Credit Clause.
  2. The Eleventh Amendment provides: “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.”