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US v. Lopez

(1995)

Supreme Court of the United States - 514 U.S. 549

tl;dr:

Suggests judicially enforceable limits on Congress. Even under a deferential rational basis test, this gun law fails.

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ICRAIssue, Conclusion, Rule, Analysis for US v. Lopez

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Facts & HoldingUS v. Lopez case brief facts & holding

Facts:In Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1990, Congress made it...

Holding:Congress has broad authority under Commerce Clause; but it is...

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US v. Lopez | Case Brief DeepDive
Majority opinion, author: Chief Justice Rehnquist
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The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 was found to exceed Congress's authority to regulate commerce among the states by the Supreme Court due to insufficient findings and legislative history. The Commerce Clause grants Congress the power to regulate commerce, but limitations on this power are inherent in the language of the Commerce Clause itself. Congress cannot use a relatively trivial impact on commerce as an excuse for broad general regulation of state or private activities. Rather, where a general regulatory statute bears a substantial relation to commerce, the de minimis character of individual instances arising under that statute is of no consequence. Congress may regulate the use of the channels of interstate commerce, protect the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, and regulate activities that substantially affect interstate commerce. The Court has the power to enforce the limits of Congress' power to regulate commerce.

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Opinion (Concurrence), author: Justice Kennedy
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The Supreme Court has had a complex history in interpreting the Commerce Clause and determining the extent of state authority. The Court recognized Congress' power to regulate matters pertaining to the organization of railroad workers and upheld state rate orders. The Court also upheld an Interstate Commerce Commission order fixing railroad rates, explaining that congressional authority extends to interstate carriers as instruments of interstate commerce. The Court's inconsistent application of a practical approach to the commerce power led to inconsistencies in doctrine. Congress can regulate commercial activities assuming a unified national market and purpose to build a stable economy. The balance between national and state power is entrusted to the political process, and Congress has substantial discretion and control over the federal balance.

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Opinion (Concurrence), author: Justice Thomas
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The discussion focuses on Justice Thomas' perspective that the Supreme Court has strayed from the original meaning of the Commerce Clause, and the necessity to review its jurisprudence. The author stresses the significance of maintaining a clear test that distinguishes between national and local authority, as the Court's interpretation has swallowed Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Although federal power is provided over activities that considerably impact interstate commerce under Section 8, it does not extend to all activities that substantially affect interstate commerce. The Supreme Court determined that Congress could regulate "navigation" since the term fell under the interpretation of "commerce" during the time of the Constitution's framing.

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Dissenting opinion, author: Justice Stevens
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Justice Stevens, in his dissenting opinion, agrees with Justice Breyer and Souter that Congress has the power to prohibit possession of firearms in or near schools to protect the school environment. He believes that the possession of guns is a consequence of commercial activity, and therefore, Congress has the power to regulate commerce in firearms, including the power to prohibit their possession in any location due to their potentially harmful use. Justice Stevens argues that the decision is radical and akin to the discredited version of substantive due process, and that the national interest in eliminating the market for possession of handguns by school-age children justifies federal legislation today, even if it may not have done so in 1789.

Dissenting opinion, author: Justice Souter
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Justice Souter's dissenting opinion argues that the Court should defer to Congress's judgment when reviewing legislation under the Commerce Clause, as long as there is a rational basis for such a finding. The Court rejects the argument that the Gun-Free School Zones Act operates in areas traditionally subject to state regulation and emphasizes that the commerce power is not diminished by proximity to customary state concerns. The Court has established clear statement rules in cases where legislation would significantly alter the balance between state and national powers. However, these rules have no relevance to the question of whether Congress has the commerce power to act or to the standard of judicial review when Congress has definitely meant to exercise that power. Congressional action that touches on a subject of traditional state concern will stand or fall depending on the Court's view of the strength of the legislation's commercial justification.

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Dissenting opinion, author: Justice Breyer
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The case involves the constitutionality of a law that criminalizes possessing guns in or near schools under the Commerce Clause. The Court found that Congress could rationally conclude that guns near schools pose a serious threat to education and the economy. Justice Breyer dissented, arguing that the statute falls within the scope of the commerce power. The majority's holding creates legal uncertainty and contradicts previous Supreme Court cases, potentially restricting Congress' ability to enact criminal laws aimed at behavior that threatens the economic and social well-being of Americans.

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