A Supreme Court case known as Ex parte Young has been referenced multiple times during the hearing, with plaintiffs arguing that they can sue Texas officers thanks to the precedent established by this 1908 case.
In Ex parte Young, the court ruled that a plaintiff can sue state officials who are acting unconstitutionally in a federal court despite the 11th Amendment — which is often interpreted to limit when an individual can sue a state government — and a state’s sovereign immunity, which rules that a state cannot be sued without its consent.
When enacting S.B. 8, the Texas legislature relied on this sovereign immunity doctrine to protect itself from being sued by individuals challenging the law. But Ex parte Young created an exception to sovereign immunity for people suing state officials charged with enforcing an unconstitutional law.
Monday’s plaintiffs, led by Hearron, are arguing that Texas officials, judges and court clerks have roles in the active enforcement of S.B. 8, even if the law was designed to be enforced by private citizens who bring lawsuits against abortion providers. The plaintiffs are arguing that because all these state agents play a role in the law’s enforcement, they fall within the Ex parte Young precedent.
The original 1908 case has to do with railroads. Minnesota passed laws limiting what railroads could charge, affecting individual shareholders, who then went to a federal court and sued the state’s attorney general, Edward T. Young, to prevent him from enforcing the law, arguing that it violated the 14th Amendment. Young used the 11th Amendment to protect himself from the lawsuit, but the Supreme Court ruled that the Minnesota railroad laws were unconstitutional and that a state official (in this case, Young) was acting unconstitutionally by attempting to enforce them.
That ruling, however, also found that “the Federal court may enjoin an individual or a state officer from enforcing a state statute on account of its unconstitutionality, but it may not restrain the state court from acting in any case brought before it either of a civil or criminal nature.”