Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer case brief

Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer case brief summary
427 U.S. 445 (1976)

Certiorari was granted to review from a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which held that the sovereign immunity afforded a state by the Eleventh Amendment barred Congress, acting under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, from authorizing federal courts to award money damages to petitioners against respondent for violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e.

Petitioners, male state employees, appealed a judgment holding that, although respondent state's retirement plan violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e, by discriminating against male employees, the court could not award retroactive retirement benefits under 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e-5, because such an award was barred by the sovereign immunity afforded the state under the Eleventh Amendment.


  • The Court reversed, holding that Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 pursuant to the authority granted to it by § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provided that Congress had the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the substantive provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. 
  • The Court reasoned that a state's sovereignty was necessarily limited by the enforcement provisions of §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment because, when Congress acted pursuant to that section, it was exercising legislative authority that was plenary within the terms of its constitutional grant, and was exercising that authority under one section of a constitutional amendment whose other sections, by their own terms, embodied limitations on state authority.

The Court reversed the lower court's judgment.

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