United States v Lopez (1995)

For the first time in Six Decades, the Federal Court ruled that Congress was exceeding the power under the Commerce Clause. Under the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1990 it was unlawful for anyone to possess a firearm near, or around a school. A 12th Grade student conceal-carried a firearm into his school, and was arrested under Texas law for possessing a firearm on school property. The charges were dismissed after Federal Agents charged him under the GFSZA.

The District Court denied a motion made by Lopez to dismiss the incident. Saying that according to the Commerce Clause in Article 1 of the Constitution, the GFSZA was a power that Congress had. The Fifth Court reversed the decision, saying that Congress did not have that power and that they were exceeding their power, which made the GFSZA Unconstitutional. The Supreme Court agreed.

Congress can regulate the commerce under three broad categories.  a) the use of the channels of interstate commerce; b) Congress is empowered to regulate and protect the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, or persons or things in interstate commerce, even though the threat may come only from intrastate activities; and c) Congress’ commerce authority includes the power to regulate those activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce, i.e., those activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.

Clearly a gun in a school zone is in no way economic activity, so the court ruled against Congress. Because Lopez was not in interstate commerce, or had no ties to it, him carrying a handgun did not affect anything. Therefore, he has no ties to commerce, and even if repeated it would have no affect on commerce. Both Kennedy and Thomas concurred. “The substantial effects test has eviscerated any notion of federalism. Without boundaries limiting the Commerce Clause to truly commercial activity, we give the federal government a blank check to regulate anything under the guise of the Commerce Clause,” Justice Thomas stated. He had the view that the substantial effects test should be eliminated altogether. This was different than the majority. Justice Breyer, Stevens, Souter, and Ginsberg all dissented.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *