Young Again

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University of Hawaii School of Law




This essay revisits an old problem in the law of federal courts: the source of the right of action in Ex parte Young. The core of the story underlying Young is familiar. Shareholders in railroad corporations filed suit in a federal circuit court, claiming that state established rail rates in Minnesota violated the Fourteenth Amendment and the (dormant) Commerce Clause. The circuit court issued a preliminary injunction barring adoption of the rates and prohibiting the defendants from attempting to enforce them. One of the defendants, Minnesota Attorney General Edward T. Young, nonetheless brought a state court mandamus action against the Northern Pacific Railway. The circuit court found Young in contempt and ordered him detained. Young petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, contending that his custody was unjustified because the injunction he had defied was invalid. By his account, insofar as the plaintiffs had named him as a defendant in their action challenging the rail rates, their suit was foreclosed by state sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court held that Young could not set up Minnesota's immunity, that the circuit court had jurisdiction of the action challenging the state-prescribed rates, and that the arrangements for administering the rates did not comport with due process. Justice Peckham wrote the opinion.



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