529 U.S. 598, 120 S.Ct. 1740, 146 L.Ed.2d 658 (2000)
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The case of United States v. Morrison et al. dealt with the constitutionality of a federal civil remedy for gender-motivated violence. The Court upheld the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which struck down the section's civil remedy, concluding that Congress lacked constitutional authority to enact it. The plaintiff, Christy Brzonkala, was allegedly assaulted and repeatedly raped by two other students, Antonio Morrison and James Crawford. Brzonkala filed a complaint against Morrison and Crawford under Virginia Tech's Sexual Assault Policy, and Morrison was found guilty of sexual assault. However, Morrison challenged his conviction, and a second hearing was conducted under a different policy, where his punishment was set aside without informing Brzonkala. Brzonkala sued Morrison, Crawford, and Virginia Tech for violating §13981 and Title IX. The District Court dismissed Brzonkala's Title IX claims against Virginia Tech but held that her complaint stated a claim against Morrison and Crawford under §13981. The Court of Appeals reinstated Brzonkala's §13981 claim and her Title IX hostile environment claim but affirmed the District Court's conclusion that Congress lacked constitutional authority to enact §13981's civil remedy. The lower court erred by not informing Brzonkala of the decision to set aside Morrison's punishment. Section 13981 of the Violence Against Women Act provides a civil remedy for crimes of violence motivated by gender, including compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive and declaratory relief, and other appropriate relief. The authority of Congress to enact this remedy is addressed under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment and section 8 of Article I of the Constitution.
The Violence Against Women Act lacks a jurisdictional element that would establish Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. The Supreme Court has ruled that Congress cannot use the Commerce Clause to enact § 13981, but will consider the petitioners' argument that the section's civil remedy can be upheld under Congress' remedial power in § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The civil remedy provided by §13981 is not a valid exercise of Congress's power under §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment because it is not corrective in nature and does not hold Virginia public officials accountable for investigating or prosecuting Brzonkala's assault. Justice Thomas concurs with the majority opinion but believes that the "substantial effects" test under the Commerce Clause is inconsistent with the original understanding of Congress' powers. Justice Souter, along with Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer, disagrees with the majority opinion and believes that Congress has the power to regulate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.
The evidence supports Congress using the Commerce Clause to support Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to address domestic violence and rape. The Court's decision to consider traditional state regulation in cases related to gender-based violence is unusual. The Violence Against Women Act provides a federal civil rights remedy aimed at violence against women as an alternative to state tort causes of action. Congress has the power to regulate "noneconomic" activity at economic establishments and intrastate activity that is essential to a larger regulation of economic activity. The distinction between "direct" and "indirect" effects is necessary to avoid unlimited federal power, and Congress is responsible for striking the appropriate state/federal balance. The author dissents from the Court's conclusion that the statute falls outside of Congress' Commerce Clause authority and expresses doubt about the Court's reasoning in rejecting Congress' authority under §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The author believes that Congress has the power to provide a remedy against private actors, even if they did not violate the Constitution. They disagree with the majority's view that state remedies are not inadequate. The author thinks that the Commerce Clause justifies the statute and would uphold its constitutionality. They do not address the §5 question and would defer it for further analysis if necessary.
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