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Encyclopedia > United States v. Morrison
United States v. Morrison
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued January 11, 2000
Decided May 15, 2000
Full case name: United States v. Antonio J. Morrison et al. and Christy Brzonkala v. Antonio J. Morrison et al.
Docket #: 99-5 99-29
Citations: 529 U.S. 598, 120 S.Ct. 1740, 146 L.Ed.2d. 658, 2000 US LEXIS 3422
Prior history: Brzonkala v. Va. Polytechnic Inst. & State Univ., 935 F. Supp. 779 (W.D. Va. 1996), aff'd, 169 F.3d 820 (4th Cir. 1999), cert. granted sub nom. United States v. Morrison, 527 U.S. 1068 (1999).
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.
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: Thomas
Dissent by: Souter
Joined by: Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer
Dissent by: Breyer
Joined by: Stevens, Souter (Points 1 and 2 only), Ginsburg (Points 1 and 2 only)
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8, cl. 3; U.S. Const. Amend. XIV; 42 U.S.C. § 13981.

United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000) is a United States Supreme Court decision that examined the limits of Congress's power to make laws under the Commerce Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. It held that the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 was unconstitutional because it exceeded congressional power under the Commerce Clause and under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Image File history File links Seal_of_the_United_States_Supreme_Court. ... Federal courts Supreme Court Circuit Courts of Appeal District Courts Elections Presidential elections Midterm elections Political Parties Democratic Republican Third parties State & Local government Governors Legislatures (List) State Courts Local Government Other countries Atlas  US Government Portal      The Supreme Court of the United States (sometimes colloquially referred to by the... 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 currently the most senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. ... Sandra Day OConnor (born March 26, 1930) is an American jurist who served as the first female Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1981 to 2006. ... Antonin Gregory Scalia (born March 11, 1936[1]) is an American jurist and the second most senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. ... This article is about the Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. ... 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, Brooklyn, New York) is an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. ... Stephen Gerald Breyer (born August 15, 1938) is an American attorney, political figure, and jurist. ... Year 2000 (MM) was a leap year starting on Saturday (link will display full 2000 Gregorian calendar). ... The Supreme Court Building, Washington, D.C. The Supreme Court Building, Washington, D.C., (large image) The Supreme Court of the United States, located in Washington, D.C., is the highest court (see supreme court) in the United States; that is, it has ultimate judicial authority within the United States... Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution, known as the Commerce Clause, states that Congress has the exclusive authority to manage trade activities between the states and with foreign nations and Indian tribes. ... Amendment XIV in the National Archives The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Amendment XIV) is one of the post-Civil War amendments (known as the Reconstruction Amendments), first intended to secure rights for former slaves. ... The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a United States federal law. ... Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution, known as the Commerce Clause, states that Congress has the exclusive authority to manage trade activities between the states and with foreign nations and Indian tribes. ... Amendment XIV in the National Archives The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Amendment XIV) is one of the post-Civil War amendments (known as the Reconstruction Amendments), first intended to secure rights for former slaves. ...

Contents

History

In 1994, the United States Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, which contained a provision at 42 U.S.C. § 13981 for a federal civil remedy to victims of gender-based violence, even when no criminal charges were filed. Type Bicameral Houses Senate House of Representatives President of the Senate President pro tempore Dick Cheney, (R) since January 20, 2001 Robert C. Byrd, (D) since January 4, 2007 Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, (D) since January 4, 2007 Members 535 plus 4 Delegates and 1 Resident Commissioner Political... The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a United States federal law. ...


That fall, at Virginia Tech, freshman student Christy Brozonkala was assaulted and repeatedly raped by Antonio Morrison and James Crawford, members of the school's football team. During the school-conducted hearing on her complaint, Morrison admitted having sexual contact with her despite the fact that she had twice told him "no."[1] College proceedings failed to punish Crawford, but initially punished Morrison with a suspension (punishment later struck down by the administration). A state grand jury did not find sufficient evidence, in its opinion, to charge either man with a crime.[2] Brozonkala then filed suit under the Violence Against Women Act. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, better known as Virginia Tech, is a public land grant polytechnic university in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S. Although it is a comprehensive university with many departments, the agriculture, engineering, architecture, forestry, and veterinary medicine programs from its historical polytechnic core are still considered to... In the American common law legal system, a grand jury is a type of jury which determines if there is enough evidence for a trial. ...


The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia held that Congress lacked authority to enact 42 U.S.C. § 13981. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the decision 2-1. The Fourth Circuit reheard the case en banc and reversed the panel, upholding the district court. The United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia is a United States district court which is seated in the following locations in Virginia: Abingdon Big Stone Gap Charlottesville Danville Harrisonburg Lynchburg Roanoke The people are represented in this court by the United States Attorney for the Western... The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is a federal court located in Richmond, Virginia with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts: District of Maryland Eastern District of North Carolina Middle District of North Carolina Western District of North Carolina District of South... En banc or in bank is a term used to refer to the hearing of a case by all the judges of a court. ...


The Supreme Court affirmed in a 5-4 decision. Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing for the majority, held that Congress lacked authority, under either the Commerce Clause or the Fourteenth Amendment, to enact the law. 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. ... Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution, known as the Commerce Clause, states that Congress has the exclusive authority to manage trade activities between the states and with foreign nations and Indian tribes. ... Amendment XIV in the National Archives The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Amendment XIV) is one of the post-Civil War amendments (known as the Reconstruction Amendments), first intended to secure rights for former slaves. ...


Rationale

United States v. Morrison invalidated the section of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 that gave victims of gender-motivated violence the right to sue their attackers in federal court, although program funding remains unaffected. Congress enacted this private civil remedy in the face of statistical evidence that states did not prosecute crimes against women as often as crimes against men. The Court majority ruled that VAWA exceeded congressional power under the Commerce Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. The Court extended the restrictions on the Commerce Clause power which the Court had established in United States v. Lopez to Morrison, and set forth federalism or states' rights restrictions on how Congress could enforce the Fourteenth Amendment based on Court precedents, including the Civil Rights Cases. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a United States federal law. ... Holding Possession of a gun near a school is not an economic activity that has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. ...


Commerce Clause

With regard to the Commerce Clause, the majority said that United States v. Lopez (1995) was the controlling precedent. Lopez held that the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 was unconstitutional. There as in Morrison, the court stressed, "enumerated powers" that limit federal power in order to maintain "a distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local." Lopez therefore limited the scope of the Commerce Clause to exclude activity that was not directly economic in nature, even if there were indirect economic consequences. This was the first significant limitation on the Commerce Clause powers of Congress in 53 years.


The majority concluded that acts of violence such as those that VAWA was meant to remedy had only an "attenuated" effect, not a substantial one, on interstate commerce. The government, however, argued that in the aggregate "a mountain of evidence" indicated that these acts did have a substantial effect; for this proposition it relied on Wickard v. Filburn (1942), which held that Congress could regulate an individual act that lacked a substantial effect on interstate commerce if, when aggregated, acts of that sort had the required relation to interstate commerce. Once again relying on Lopez, the majority replied that the aggregation principle of Wickard did not apply because economic effects of crimes against women were indirect, and therefore could not be addressed through the Commerce Clause. Holding Production quotas under the Agricultural Adjustment Act were constitutionally applied to agricultural production that was consumed purely intrastate, because its effect upon interstate commerce placed it within the power of Congress to regulate under the Commerce Clause. ...


The Court explained that the need to distinguish between economic activities that directly and those that indirectly affect interstate commerce was due to "the concern that we expressed in Lopez that Congress might use the Commerce Clause to completely obliterate the Constitution’s distinction between national and local authority." Referring to Lopez, the Court said: "Were the Federal Government to take over the regulation of entire areas of traditional state concern, areas having nothing to do with the regulation of commercial activities, the boundaries between the spheres of federal and state authority would blur." The majority further stated, "[I]t is difficult to perceive any limitation on federal power, even in areas such as criminal law enforcement or education where States historically have been sovereign." Justice Thomas's concurring opinion also expressed the concern that "Congress [was] appropriating state police powers under the guise of regulating commerce."


The majority, quoting from NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. (1937), said that the scope of the interstate commerce power Holding Congress had the power, under the Commerce Clause, to regulate labor relations. ...

must be considered in the light of our dual system of government and may not be extended so as to embrace effects upon interstate commerce so indirect and remote that to embrace them, in view of our complex society, would effectually obliterate the distinction between what is national and what is local and create a completely centralized government.

The Lopez court stated that Congress may regulate (1) use of the channels of interstate commerce, (2) the "instrumentalities" (for example, vehicles) used in interstate commerce, and (3) activities that substantially affect interstate commerce. Because VAWA's civil remedy concededly did not regulate the first or second categories, the Morrison court analyzed its validity under the third.


Equal Protection Clause

The United States Government argued that pervasive gender stereotypes and assumptions permeated state justice systems. It argued these forms of state bias led to "insufficient investigation and prosecution of gender-motivated crime, inappropriate focus on the behavior and credibility of the victims of that crime, and unacceptably lenient punishments for those who are actually convicted of gender-motivated violence." This bias, the government argued, deprived women of the equal protection of the laws, and the private civil remedy of VAWA was meant to redress "both the States' bias and deter future instances of gender discrimination in the state courts."


The Court responded that, even if there was gender-based disparate treatment by state authorities in this case, precedents such as the Civil Rights Cases limit the manner in which Congress may remedy discrimination, and require that a civil remedy be directed at a State or state actor instead of a private party. Such precedents, said the Court, prohibit only state action — i.e., action by state governments — and not private conduct.


The majority reaffirmed the state action doctrine, and specifically reaffirmed the results reached in United States v. Harris (1883) and the Civil Rights Cases (1883), both decided fifteen years after the Fourteenth Amendment's ratification in 1868. In the Civil Rights Cases, the Court had held that the Equal Protection Clause applied only to acts done by states, not to acts done by private individuals. Because the Civil Rights Act of 1875 applied to racial discrimination in private establishments, the Court said in the Civil Rights Cases, it exceeded congressional enforcement power under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Harris, the Court ruled that the Clause did not apply to a prison lynching, since the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to private actors, as opposed to state actors. A sheriff (a state actor) had tried to prevent the lynching. To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Holding The Equal Protection clause applies only to state action, not segregation by privately owned businesses. ... The Civil Rights Act of 1875 (18 Stat. ... A number of amendments to the United States Constitution include a Congressional power of enforcement. ...


According to Morrison, "assuming that there has been gender-based disparate treatment by state authorities in this case, it would not be enough to save § 13981's civil remedy, which is directed not at a State or state actor but at individuals who have committed criminal acts motivated by gender bias." The Court agreed with the government that there was a "voluminous congressional record" supporting the "assertion that there is pervasive bias in various state justice systems against victims of gender-motivated violence," and the Court also agreed with the government that "state-sponsored gender discrimination violates equal protection unless it serves important governmental objectives...." However, according to the majority, even if there is unconstitutional state action, that only justifies Congress in targeting the state actors, rather than targeting private parties:

[T]he language and purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment place certain limitations on the manner in which Congress may attack discriminatory conduct. These limitations are necessary to prevent the Fourteenth Amendment from obliterating the Framers' carefully crafted balance of power between the States and the National Government.

The government's argument was that VAWA was in response to "gender-based disparate treatment by state authorities" and that there was "no indication of such state action" in the Civil Rights Cases. The majority countered that an argument used by radical Republicans in favor of civil rights laws that the Civil Rights Cases Court decided against was that "There were state laws on the books bespeaking equality of treatment, but in the administration of these laws there was discrimination against newly freed slaves."


The majority continued that even if the government's distinction between Morrison and the Civil Rights Cases was valid, the VAWA still was unconstitutionally aimed not at state actors but at private criminal conduct. Rehnquist said the Court's City of Boerne v. Flores (1997) interpretation of Katzenbach v. Morgan required that Congress adhere to the Court's state action interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The "congruence and proportionality" requirement of Boerne did not allow Congress to exceed the Court's interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, wrote Chief Justice Rehnquist for the Court in Morrison. Although the "one way ratchet" interpretation of Katzenbach v. Morgan (1966) would have allowed Congress to go beyond, but not fall short of, the Court's interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause,[3] that interpretation had been rejected by the Court in Boerne in order to prevent "a considerable congressional intrusion into the States' traditional prerogatives and general authority" (the Boerne Court cited arguments made by 19th century "Democrats and conservative Republicans" as they opposed a preliminary draft of the Fourteenth Amendment). City of Boerne v. ... Holding Congress may enact laws stemming from its 14th Amendment enforcement power that increase the rights of citizens beyond what the judiciary has recognized. ... Holding Congress may enact laws stemming from its 14th Amendment enforcement power that increase the rights of citizens beyond what the judiciary has recognized. ...


In the case of Morgan, the Court had said that the Equal Protection Clause is "a positive grant of legislative power authorizing Congress to exercise its discretion in determining the need for and nature of legislation to secure Fourteenth Amendment guarantees," which some interpreted as an acknowledgment by the Court of congressional power to expand the rights contained in section one of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the Boerne Court said, "This is not a necessary interpretation, however, or even the best one." The Court in Boerne said that only the Court could interpret the Constitution, in order to maintain the "traditional separation of powers between Congress and the Judiciary." Professor Jim Chen of the University of Minnesota has said that while Boerne did not formally overrule Morgan, "after Boerne, Morgan will never again enjoy iconic status."[4] The Morrison Court distinguished Morgan, which had involved federal legislation "directed at New York officials" instead of private parties. The Morrison Court also noted that, unlike the VAWA, the legislation in Morgan "was directed only to the State where the evil found by Congress existed."


Responses to Morrison

The United States v. Morrison decision was seen by the press as part of the Rehnquist Court's series of federalism or states' rights decisions, mainly because of the Court's previous federalism or states' rights holdings in Lopez, Boerne, and other decisions.[5] For theological federalism, see Covenant Theology. ... States rights refers to the idea, in U.S. politics and constitutional law, that U.S. states possess certain rights and political powers in relation to the federal government. ...


Feminist Wendy Kaminer agreed with the courts that Congress had overstepped its bounds by invoking the Commerce Clause: "The price of upholding VAWA's civil rights remedy is an unconstitutional grant of unlimited power to Congress, power that will not always be used wisely or with regard to individual rights. We need to combat sexual violence without making a federal case of it."[6] Wendy Kaminer is a law professor and feminist writer. ...


Law Professor Peter Shane said that the attorneys general of 36 states had endorsed the VAWA, and Shane argued that the endorsement "exposes one of the more bizarre aspects of the Supreme Court's recent activism on behalf of state sovereignty: From the states' point of view, this campaign is often pointless and sometimes counterproductive."[7] According to Shane, the 36 attorneys general called the Violence Against Women Act "a particularly appropriate remedy for the harm caused by gender-motivated violence."


The Washington Post came out in favor of the Morrison decision: "The court got it right. If Congress could federalize rape and assault, it's hard to think of anything it couldn't."[8] ...


Notes

  1. ^ United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000).
  2. ^ Taylor, Stuart. "Court to Congress: You can't regulate everything by Stuart Taylor Jr.", National Journal (1999-03-13). Retrieved 2007-02-13.
  3. ^ See, e.g., Stephen L. Carter, "The Morgan 'Power' and the Forced Reconsideration of Constitutional Decisions", 53 U. Chi. L. Rev. 819 (1986); William Cohen, "Congressional Power to Interpret Due Process and Equal Protection", 27 Stan L. Rev. 603 (1975).
  4. ^ Jim Chen, "Come Back to the Nickel and Five: Tracing the Warren Court's Pursuit of Equal Justice Under Law", 59 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1203, 1287 (2002).
  5. ^ Masters, Brooke. "No Winners in Rape Lawsuit", The Washington Post, May 19, 2000: "Although the case started as a classic 'he said, she said,' by the time it reached the Supreme Court, U.S. v. Morrison was all about federalism, not sexual politics."
  6. ^ Kaminer, Wendy. "Sexual Congress", American Prospect (2000-02-14). Retrieved 2007-02-13. Kaminer's article also stated:
    "Try the common sense test: When you think of a rape in a college dormitory, do you think about interstate commerce? As the Fourth Circuit noted in Brzonkala, the relationship between sexual violence and interstate commerce is rather attenuated....Do you want Congress to enjoy unrestricted regulatory power over you? (Do you want your divorce in federal court? Do you want Congress making local zoning decisions for your town?) The Supreme Court in Lopez rightly held that the Commerce Clause is not a grant of general police power....This standard does not unduly limit congressional power, including the power to prohibit discrimination. It does not invalidate the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Segregation in hotels and restaurants, on transportation systems, and in the workplace involved commercial activities with clear and substantial effects upon interstate commerce."
  7. ^ Shane, Peter. "In Whose Best Interests? Not the States", Washington Post (2000-05-21). Also see Mauro, Tony. "States' Rights Triumph in Supreme Court Kimel Decision, Oral VAWA Argument", Legal Intelligencer (2000-01-12); Greenhouse, Linda. "Justices Cool to Law Protecting Women", New York Times, (2000-01-12)
  8. ^ Washington Post, Editorial: States’ Business, (2000-05-16). Retrieved 2007-02-13.

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See also

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. ... A number of amendments to the United States Constitution include a Congressional power of enforcement. ... This is a list of all the United States Supreme Court cases from volume 530 of the United States Reports: , 530 U.S. 1 (2000) , 530 U.S. 15 (2000) United States v. ...

External links

  • "United States v. Morrison" on Wikisource.
  • Full text at Cornell.edu
  • Text at DOJ
  • Dimino, Michael. Yes, Virginia (Tech), Our Government Is One Of Limited Powers: United States v. Morrison, 120 S.Ct. 1740 (2000), 24 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y 895 (2001).

 
 

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