WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court appeared poised Wednesday to give states another victory over federal powers by blocking private citizens from bringing money damages suits against a state in its own courts.

The case, Alden v. Maine, 98-436, arose from an otherwise routine suit by Maine probation officers to collect federally guaranteed overtime pay. But the hour-long arguments turned into a sharp debate over principles of federalism and gave the Rehnquist court’s conservative majority an opportunity to flex their states’ rights muscles.

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