Skip to main content

Federal Court Cannot Decide Ownership Of Seized Slaves


A Spanish slave vessel, the Isabelita, owned by Juan Madrazo, is captured by a pirate ship and carried to Amelia Island off the Georgia coast. William Bowen buys the slaves and intends to take them to East Florida, then a province of Spain. But Georgia officials seize the slaves on the grounds that the law prohibits the importation of slaves. The governor of Georgia asks the federal district court for permission to sell the slaves, but the court of appeals rules against Georgia. Before the Supreme Court, Georgia argues that the federal court cannot award the money and slaves to Madrazo because the Eleventh Amendment bars the federal court from deciding a case in which a state is a party. The Supreme Court agrees and Georgia keeps the money and slaves and Madrazo keeps his ship.