United States v. Burke, 504 U.S. 229, 23 (1992)

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Cite as: 504 U. S. 229 (1992)

O'Connor, J., dissenting

has not suggested that this comparison turns on the specific monetary relief available. In Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U. S. 261 (1985), we considered which state statute of limitations is most appropriately applied to a claim brought under 42 U. S. C. 1983. The Court answered this question by looking not to the remedies afforded a 1983 plaintiff, but to "the essence of the claim" and "the elements of the cause of action." Id., at 268. Of greatest significance was the fact that Congress designed the Civil Rights Act of 1871 to provide a civil remedy for violations of constitutional rights in the postwar South. Because Congress was concerned with harms that "plainly sounded in tort," it only remained for the Court to select the best comparison from among "a broad range of potential tort analogies, from injuries to property to infringements of individual liberty." Id., at 277. In concluding that the closest state-law equivalent to a 1983 suit is a tort claim for personal injury, the Court once more emphasized the rights made enforceable under federal law:

"The unifying theme of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 is reflected in the language of the Fourteenth Amendment that unequivocally recognizes the equal status of every 'person' subject to the jurisdiction of any of the several States. The Constitution's command is that all 'persons' shall be accorded the full privileges of citizenship . . . . A violation of that command is an injury to the individual rights of the person." Ibid. (footnote omitted).

When asked in Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co., supra, to determine the appropriate state analogue to a suit under 42 U. S. C. 1981, the Court again considered the rights protected by federal law rather than the recovery that could be had by a plaintiff. As in Wilson, the tort-like nature of a 1981 claim was clear. See 482 U. S., at 661. Accordingly, the Court quickly turned to rejecting the view that 1981 suits are more similar to tort actions for interference with


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