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Printz v. United States

(1997)

Supreme Court of the United States - 521 U.S. 898

tl;dr:

Anti-commandeering principle extends to preventing federal government from coercing state officials to execute federal programs.

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Facts & HoldingPrintz v. United States case brief facts & holding

Facts:Congress enacted Brady Handgun violence Prevention Act, which required state...

Holding:Enactments of first early Congresses contained no evidence of an...

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Printz v. United States | Case Brief DeepDive
Majority opinion, author: Justice Sc alia
Level 1
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The legal case examines whether Congress can require state law enforcement officers to conduct background checks on prospective handgun purchasers, as mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act's interim provisions. The District Court found this provision unconstitutional, but the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision. The Supreme Court is reviewing the case to determine whether Congress can compel state executive officers to administer federal programs, which may violate state sovereignty and the Constitution's "dual sovereignty" system. The Constitution assigns the responsibility of administering laws enacted by Congress to the President, not to state officers. Congress lacks the power to directly compel the States to require or prohibit certain acts, and the Necessary and Proper Clause does not authorize Congress to regulate state governments' regulation of interstate commerce. The Supremacy Clause does not resolve the question of whether laws conscripting state officers violate state sovereignty and are not in accord with the Constitution.

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Opinion (Concurrence), author: Justice O’Connor
Level 1
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The Brady Act violates the Tenth Amendment by mandating States and local law enforcement officers to perform background checks on prospective handgun owners and to accept Brady Forms from firearms dealers. However, States and chief law enforcement officers may voluntarily continue to participate in the federal program. The directives to the States are interim provisions scheduled to terminate on November 30, 1998. The Court did not decide on the validity of other reporting requirements imposed by Congress on state and local authorities pursuant to its Commerce Clause powers. Nonetheless, the provisions invalidated in this case, which directly compel state officials to administer a federal regulatory program, do not conform to the design and structure of our constitutional scheme. Congress may amend the interim program to provide for its continuance on a contractual basis with the States if it wishes.

Opinion (Concurrence), author: Justice Thomas
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Justice Thomas agrees with the Court's opinion that the Brady Act violates the Tenth Amendment by compelling state law enforcement officers to enforce a federal regulatory program. He dissents from the Court's opinion that the Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to regulate wholly intrastate, point-of-sale transactions. Justice Thomas argues that the Second Amendment may limit the government's authority to regulate firearms, but since the parties did not raise this argument, the Court need not consider it here. He suggests that the Court may have the opportunity to determine the nature of the substantive right safeguarded by the Second Amendment in the future. In the meantime, he joins the Court's opinion striking down the challenged provisions of the Brady Act as inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment.

Dissenting opinion, author: Justice Stevens
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The dissenting opinion argues that Congress has the power to require state and local officers to perform certain duties temporarily while a federal gun control program is being developed. The Tenth Amendment does not restrict the exercise of delegated powers, and federal law may impose greater duties on state officials than on private citizens. The Court's interpretation that Congress could impose responsibilities without the consent of the States is not supported by historical evidence. The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 was designed to prevent the imposition of Federal mandates on State governments without adequate Federal funding and demonstrates that protection of federalism should be left to the political process, except in extraordinary circumstances. The Court's majority rule limiting the Federal Government's enlistment of state officials in implementing its programs may harm the safeguards against tyranny provided by vital state governments.

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Dissenting opinion, author: Justice Souter
Level 1
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The passage explains the interpretation of The Federalist No. 27 and No. 44 regarding the Supremacy Clause and the requirement for state officials to take an oath to uphold the Constitution. It argues that state officials have a duty to support federal law and that state machinery can be integrated into the operation of the national government. The passage cites examples from The Federalist that illustrate how states were expected to assist in collecting federal revenue, countering concerns about having too many tax collectors. The dissenting opinion agrees with this interpretation, finding support in The Federalist and other papers. However, it does not find the early instances of federal employment of state officers for executive purposes to be conclusive.

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Dissenting opinion, author: Justice Breyer
Level 1
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Justice Breyer dissented from the majority opinion, arguing that other countries' experiences show that allowing constituent states to implement laws enacted by the central government better maintains local control and safeguards individual liberty. He believes that creating a new federal gun-law bureaucracy or expanding an existing one would not promote state sovereignty or individual liberty. Justice Breyer argues that there is no need to interpret the Constitution as prohibiting the assignment of any federal duty to a state official and that the Brady Act does not allow the Federal Government to overpower a state civil service.

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