The Eleventh Amendment permits plaintiffs to recover prospective relief, for example, injunctive or declaratory relief, against a state. By contrast, the Eleventh Amendment bars recovery of retrospective relief against a state. The classic legal remedy of money damages is not recoverable. There are three types of contempts: civil compensatory and coercive contempt and criminal contempt. Civil compensatory contempt fines and criminal contempt fines are clearly retrospective in nature and so are not recoverable against a state. At the same time, civil coercive contempt fines are prospective and so should be recoverable against a state despite the Eleventh Amendment. Problems arise, however, because the Supreme Court has not offered lower courts sufficient guidance in distinguishing civil coercive and criminal contempt fines. This essay proposes several guideposts courts can apply in assessing the recovery of contempt fines in the face of the Eleventh Amendment.
John Sanchez, Contempt Fines and the Eleventh Amendment, 9 ConLawNOW 279 (2018)