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Encyclopedia > United States v. Lopez
United States v. Lopez

Supreme Court of the United States
Argued November 8, 1994
Decided April 26, 1995
Full case name: United States v. Alfonso Lopez, Jr.
Citations: 514 U.S. 549; 115 S. Ct. 1624; 131 L. Ed. 2d 626; 1995 U.S. LEXIS 3039; 63 U.S.L.W. 4343; 95 Cal. Daily Op. Service 3074; 8 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 752
Prior history: On writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Holding
Possession of a gun near a school is not an economic activity that has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. A law prohibiting guns near schools is a criminal statute that does not relate to commerce or any sort of economic activity.
Court membership
Chief Justice: William Rehnquist
Associate Justices: John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
Majority by: Rehnquist
Joined by: O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas
Concurrence by: Kennedy
Joined by: O'Connor
Concurrence by: Thomas
Dissent by: Stevens
Dissent by: Souter
Dissent by: Breyer
Joined by: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3

United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995) was the first United States Supreme Court case since the Great Depression to set limits to Congress's power under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Image File history File links Seal_of_the_United_States_Supreme_Court. ... The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the United States and is the only part of the judicial branch of the United States federal government explicitly specified in the United States Constitution. ... William Hubbs Rehnquist (October 1, 1924 – September 3, 2005) was an American lawyer, jurist, and a political figure, who served as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States and later as the Chief Justice of the United States. ... John Paul Stevens (born April 20, 1920) is an American jurist, and the senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. ... Other facts and information OConnor is an avid golfer who scored a hole-in-one in 2000 at the Paradise Valley Country Club in Arizona. ... Antonin Gregory Scalia (born March 11, 1936) is an American jurist and the second most senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. ... Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Anthony Kennedy For other people of the same name, see Anthony Kennedy (disambiguation). ... David Hackett Souter (born September 17, 1939) has been an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States since 1990. ... Clarence Thomas (born June 23, 1948) is an American jurist and has been an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States since 1991. ... Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg (born March 15, 1933) has served as an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court since 1993. ... Stephen Gerald Breyer (born August 15, 1938) is an American attorney, political figure, and jurist. ... Wikisource has original text related to this article: Article One of the United States Constitution Article One of the United States Constitution states the establishment of the legislative branch of the United States government, known as the Congress, which includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. ... Wikisource has original text related to this article: Article One of the United States Constitution Article One of the United States Constitution states the establishment of the legislative branch of the United States government, known as the Congress, which includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. ... Wikisource has original text related to this article: Article One of the United States Constitution Article One of the United States Constitution states the establishment of the legislative branch of the United States government, known as the Congress, which includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. ... 1995 (MCMXCV) was a common year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ... The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the United States and is the only part of the judicial branch of the United States federal government explicitly specified in the United States Constitution. ... The Great Depression an economic downturn which started in 1929 (although its effects were not fully felt until late 1930) and lasted through most of the 1930s. ... Congress in Joint Session. ... Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution, known as the Commerce Clause, empowers the United States Congress To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes. ... The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. ...

Contents

Background

Alfonso Lopez, Jr carried a handgun and cartridges into his high school, Edison High, San Antonio, Texas. He was charged with violating the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, 18 U.S.C. § 922{q). A handgun is a firearm small enough to be carried and used in one hand. ... It has been suggested that Firearm brass and Casing (ammunition) be merged into this article or section. ... Nickname: Alamo City; River City Location in the state of Texas Coordinates: Counties Bexar County Mayor Phil Hardberger Area    - City 1067. ... The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 was enacted as section 1702 of the Crime Control Act of 1990 (Pub. ... The United States Code (U.S.C.) is a compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal law of the United States. ...


Lopez's legal defense held that the federal government had no authority to regulate firearms in school zones, and argued that the federal law under which Lopez was convicted was unconstitutional.


The government argued that possession of a firearm in a school zone leads to violent crime, which would affect the general economic condition by limiting travel in the area. The government also stipulated that the presence of firearms in a school zone would prevent people from learning effectively due to the constant fear of violent crime, leading to a weaker economy. Thus, the government argued that the possession of a firearm at a school fell under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. A school zone refers to the area of a street near a school, where the speed limit is reduced to protect student pedestrians. ... A violent crime or crime of violence is a crime in which the offender uses or threatens violent force upon the victim. ...


Supreme Court decision

The Supreme Court held that while Congress had broad lawmaking authority under the Commerce Clause, it was not unlimited, and did not apply to something as far from commerce as carrying handguns, especially when there was no evidence that carrying them affected the economy on a massive scale. (A later case, United States v. Morrison (2000), ruled that Congress could not make such laws even when there was evidence of aggregate effect.) Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution, known as the Commerce Clause, empowers the United States Congress To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes. ... Holding The Violence Against Women Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 13981, is unconstitutional as exceeding congressional power under the Commerce Clause and under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. ... This article is about the year 2000. ...


Chief Justice Rehnquist, delivering the opinion of the court, wrote that Congress had the power to regulate only: William Hubbs Rehnquist (October 1, 1924 – September 3, 2005) was an American lawyer, jurist, and a political figure, who served as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States and later as the Chief Justice of the United States. ...

  • the channels of commerce,
  • the instrumentalities of commerce, or persons or things in interstate commerce, even if the threat comes from intrastate activities, and
  • action that substantially affects interstate commerce.

He dismissed the government's argument, reasoning that if Congress could regulate something so far removed from commerce, then it could regulate anything, and since the Constitution clearly creates Congress as a body with enumerated powers, this could not be so. He concludes:

To uphold the Government's contentions here, we would have to pile inference upon inference in a manner that would bid fair to convert congressional authority under the Commerce Clause to a general police power of the sort retained by the States. Admittedly, some of our prior cases have taken long steps down that road, giving great deference to congressional action. The broad language in these opinions has suggested the possibility of additional expansion, but we decline here to proceed any further. To do so would require us to conclude that the Constitution's enumeration of powers does not presuppose something not enumerated, and that there never will be a distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local. This we are unwilling to do.

It is important to note that although the ruling stopped a decades-long trend of inclusiveness under the commerce clause, it did not reverse any past ruling about the meaning of the clause.


The Court specifically looked to four factors in their determination.

  1. Whether the activity was non-economic as opposed to economic activity; previous cases involved economic activity.
  2. Jurisdictional element: whether the gun had moved in interstate commerce.
  3. Whether there had been Congressional findings of an economic link between guns and education.
  4. How attenuated the link was between the regulated activity and interstate commerce.

Later, Rehnquist stated that the Court had the duty to prevent the legislative branch from usurping state powers over policing the conduct of their citizens. He admitted that the Supreme Court had upheld certain governmental steps towards taking power away from the states, and cited Lopez as a decision that finally stepped in to check the government's authority by defining clearly between state and federal powers.[1]


The Impact of the Decision

The decision creates a precedent that holds any federal law that forces states to comply as unconstitutional, creating a substantial question on the system of federalism.[2] This precedent takes special significance in cases where the federal government is attempting to limit private conduct. [2] The argument can be made that this significant limiting of federal power is necessary to establish a greater threshold for governmental accountability and revitalizes the role of the states in public policymaking.[3]


Following the Lopez decision, over 556 cases contesting the Commerce Clause powers of the federal government were filed at the federal court level.[4]


External links

  • Full text at Cornell.edu

References

    1. ^ William H. Rhenquist, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, American Constitutional Interpretation, Third Edition, 2000, Ed. Walter F. Murphy, James E. Fleming, Sotirios A. Barber, and Stephen Macedo, pgs. 639-640
  • ^ a b Erwin Cherminsky, Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California, Florida Law Review, "The Values of Federalism," Sept. 1995, 46 Fla. L. Rev. 499
  • ^ Kristin Collins, J.D., Yale Law School, Cardozo Law Review, April 2005, pg. Lexis
  • ^ Alistair E. Newbern, J.D., University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, California Law Review, volume 88, issue 5, October 2000, pg. 1575

 
 

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