Printz v. U.S., 951478

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSCALIA
Citation521 U.S. 898,117 S.Ct. 2365,138 L.Ed.2d 914
Docket Number951478
Decision Date27 June 1997
PartiesJay PRINTZ, Sheriff/Coroner, Ravalli County, Montana, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES. Richard MACK, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES

521 U.S. 898
117 S.Ct. 2365
138 L.Ed.2d 914

Jay PRINTZ, Sheriff/Coroner, Ravalli County, Montana, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES. Richard MACK, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES.

Nos. 95-1478, 95-1503.
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued Dec. 3, 1996.
Decided June 27, 1997.
Syllabus *

Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act provisions require the Attorney General to establish a national system for instantly checking prospective handgun purchasers' backgrounds, note following 18 U.S.C. §922, and command the "chief law enforcement officer'' (CLEO) of each local jurisdiction to conduct such checks and perform related tasks on an interim basis until the national system becomes operative, §922(s). Petitioners, the CLEOs for counties in Montana and Arizona, filed separate actions challenging the interim provisions' constitutionality. In each case, the District Court held that the background-check provision was unconstitutional, but concluded that it was severable from the remainder of the Act, effectively leaving a voluntary background-check system in place. The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding none of the interim provisions unconstitutional.

Held:

1.The Brady Act's interim provision commanding CLEOs to conduct background checks, §922(s)(2), is unconstitutional. Extinguished with it is the duty implicit in the background-check requirement that the CLEO accept completed handgun-applicant statements (Brady Forms) from firearms dealers, §§922(s)(1)(A)(i)(III) and (IV). Pp. ____-____.

(a) Because there is no constitutional text speaking to the precise question whether congressional action compelling state officers to execute federal laws is unconstitutional, the answer to the CLEOs' challenge must be sought in historical understanding and practice, in the Constitution's structure, and in this Court's jurisprudence. P. 2369.

(b) Relevant constitutional practice tends to negate the existence of the congressional power asserted here, but is not conclusive. Enactments of the early Congresses seem to contain no evidence of an assumption that the Federal Government may command the States' executive power in the absence of a particularized constitutional authorization. The early enactments establish, at most, that the Constitution was originally understood to permit imposition of an obligation on state judges to enforce federal prescriptions related to matters appropriate for the judicial power. The Government misplaces its reliance on portions of The Federalist suggesting that federal responsibilities could be imposed on state officers. None of these statements necessarily implies-what is the critical point here-that Congress could impose these responsibilities without the States' consent. They appear to rest on the natural assumption that the States would consent, see FERC v. Mississippi, 456 U.S. 742, 796, n. 35, 102 S.Ct. 2126, 2157, n. 35, 72 L.Ed.2d 532 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment and dissenting in part). Finally, there is an absence of executive-commandeering federal statutes in the country's later history, at least until very recent years. Even assuming that newer laws represent an assertion of the congressional power challenged here, they are of such recent vintage that they are not probative of a constitutional tradition. Pp. ____-____.

(c) The Constitution's structure reveals a principle that controls these cases: the system of "dual sovereignty.'' See, e.g., Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 457, 111 S.Ct. 2395, 2399, 115 L.Ed.2d 410. Although the States surrendered many of their powers to the new Federal Government, they retained a residuary and inviolable sovereignty that is reflected throughout the Constitution's text. See, e.g., Lane County v. Oregon, 7 Wall. 71, 76, 19 L.Ed. 101. The Framers rejected the concept of a central government that would act upon and through the States, and instead designed a system in which the State and Federal Governments would exercise concurrent authority over the people. The Federal Government's power would be augmented immeasurably and impermissibly if it were able to impress into its service-and at no cost to itself-the police officers of the 50 States. Pp. ____-____.

(d) Federal control of state officers would also have an effect upon the separation and equilibration of powers between the three branches of the Federal Government itself. The Brady Act effectively transfers the President's responsibility to administer the laws enacted by Congress, Art. II, §§2 and 3, to thousands of CLEOs in the 50 States, who are left to implement the program without meaningful Presidential control. The Federal Executive's unity would be shattered, and the power of the President would be subject to reduction, if Congress could simply require state officers to execute its laws. Pp. ____-____.

(e) Contrary to the dissent's contention, the Brady Act's direction of the actions of state executive officials is not constitutionally valid under Art. I, §8, as a law "necessary and proper'' to the execution of Congress's Commerce Clause power to regulate handgun sales. Where, as here, a law violates the state sovereignty principle, it is not a law "proper for carrying into Execution'' delegated powers within the Necessary and Proper Clause's meaning. Cf. New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 166, 112 S.Ct. 2408, 2423, 120 L.Ed.2d 120. The Supremacy Clause does not help the dissent, since it makes "Law of the Land'' only "Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance [of the Constitution.]'' Art. VI, cl. 2. Pp. ____-____.

(f) Finally, and most conclusively in these cases, the Court's jurisprudence makes clear that the Federal Government may not compel the States to enact or administer a federal regulatory program. See, e.g., New York, supra, at 188, 112 S.Ct., at 2435. The attempts of the Government and the dissent to distinguish New York-on grounds that the Brady Act's background-check provision does not require state legislative or executive officials to make policy; that requiring state officers to perform discrete, ministerial federal tasks does not diminish the state or federal officials' accountability; and that the Brady Act is addressed to individual CLEOs while the provisions invalidated in New York were directed to the State itself-are not persuasive. A "balancing'' analysis is inappropriate here, since the whole object of the law is to direct the functioning of the state executive, and hence to compromise the structural framework of dual sovereignty; it is the very principle of separate state sovereignty that such a law offends. See e.g., New York, supra, at 187, 112 S.Ct., at 2434. Pp. ____-____.

2.With the Act's background-check and implicit receipt-of-forms requirements invalidated, the Brady Act requirements that CLEOs destroy all Brady Forms and related records, §922(s)(6)(B)(i), and give would-be purchasers written statements of the reasons for determining their ineligibility to receive handguns, §922(s)(6)(C), require no action whatsoever on the part of CLEOs such as petitioners, who are not voluntary participants in administration of the federal scheme. As to them, these provisions are not unconstitutional, but simply inoperative. Pp. ____-____.

3.The Court declines to address the severability question briefed and argued by the parties: whether firearms dealers remain obliged to forward Brady Forms to CLEOs, §§922(s)(1)(A)(i)(III) and (IV), and to wait five business days thereafter before consummating a firearms sale, §922(s)(1)(A)(ii). These provisions burden only dealers and firearms purchasers, and no plaintiff in either of those categories is before the Court. P. 2384.

66 F.3d 1025 (C.A.9 1995), reversed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., and THOMAS, J., filed concurring opinions. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. SOUTER, J., filed a dissenting opinion. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, J., joined.

Stephen P. Halbrook, Fairfax, VA, for petitioners.

Walter Dellinger, Durham, NC, for respondent.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented in these cases is whether certain interim provisions of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Pub.L. 103-159, 107 Stat. 1536, commanding state and local law enforcement officers to conduct background checks on prospective handgun purchasers and to perform certain related tasks, violate the Constitution.

I

The Gun Control Act of 1968(GCA), 18 U.S.C. §921 et seq., establishes a detailed federal scheme governing the distribution of firearms. It prohibits firearms dealers from transferring handguns to any person under 21, not resident in the dealer's State, or prohibited by state or local law from purchasing or possessing firearms, §922(b). It also forbids possession of a firearm by, and transfer of a firearm to, convicted felons, fugitives from justice, unlawful users of controlled substances, persons adjudicated as mentally defective or committed to mental institutions, aliens unlawfully present in the United States, persons dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces, persons who have renounced their citizenship, and persons who have been subjected to certain restraining orders or been convicted of a misdemeanor offense involving domestic violence. §§922(d) and (g).

In 1993, Congress amended the GCA by enacting the Brady Act. The Act requires the Attorney General to establish a national instant background check system by November 30, 1998, Pub.L. 103-159, as amended, Pub.L. 103-322, 103 Stat. 2074, note following 18 U.S.C. §922, and immediately puts in place certain interim provisions until that system becomes operative. Under the interim provisions, a firearms dealer who proposes to transfer a handgun must first: (1) receive from the transferee a statement (the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
779 practice notes
  • Transportation Worker Identification Credential Program; maritime sector implementation: Commercial driver's license hazardous materials endorsement,
    • United States
    • Federal Register January 25, 2007
    • January 25, 2007
    ...unless they obtain a federal credential--may excessively interfere with the functioning of State governments. Cf. Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 932 (1997); see also Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 460 (1991) (emphasizing importance of State power to prescribe qualifications of i......
  • Part II
    • United States
    • Federal Register January 25, 2007
    • January 25, 2007
    ...unless they obtain a federal credential--may excessively interfere with the functioning of State governments. Cf. Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 932 (1997); see also Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 460 (1991) (emphasizing importance of State power to prescribe qualifications of i......
  • Environmental Protection Agency,
    • United States
    • Federal Register May 02, 2002
    • May 2, 2002
    ...the Constitution only when the State has no choice but to participate in the federal regulatory framework. See, Printz v. United States, 117 S.Ct. 2365 (1997); New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 112 S. Ct. 2408 (1992). Our authority under the Act to disapprove parts of a SIP does not ......
  • Environmental Protection Agency,
    • United States
    • Federal Register May 02, 2002
    • May 2, 2002
    ...the Constitution only when the State has no choice but to participate in the federal regulatory framework. See, Printz v. United States, 117 S.Ct. 2365 (1997); New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 112 S. Ct. 2408 (1992). Our authority under the Act to disapprove parts of a SIP does not ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
738 cases
  • Creedle v. Miami-Dade Cnty., Case No. 17-CIV-22477-WILLIAMS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • November 9, 2018
    ...inconsistent with the Constitution's division of authority between federal and state governments"); see also Printz v. United States , 521 U.S. 898, 904, 117 S.Ct. 2365, 138 L.Ed.2d 914 (1997) (holding invalid a federal law that "purport[ed] to direct state law enforcement officers to parti......
  • Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n v. Governor of N.J., Nos. 13–1713
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • September 17, 2013
    ...compliance with federal standards a precondition to continued state regulation in an otherwise preempted field.” Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 926, 117 S.Ct. 2365, 138 L.Ed.2d 914 (1997). The next year, in F.E.R.C. v. Mississippi, the Court upheld a provision requiring state utilit......
  • State v. United States Dep't of Health, Nos. 11–11021
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • August 12, 2011
    ...spending power, goes beyond the Spending Clause by forcing the states to participate in a federal program. Cf. Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 117 S.Ct. 2365, 138 L.Ed.2d 914 (1997) (holding that Congress may not enact a law pursuant to one of its enumerated powers and then compel st......
  • Massachusetts v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Sers., Nos. 10–2204
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 31, 2012
    ...sought to commandeer state governments or otherwise directly dictate the internal operations of state government. Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 935, 117 S.Ct. 2365, 138 L.Ed.2d 914 (1997); New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 188, 112 S.Ct. 2408, 120 L.Ed.2d 120 (1992). Whateve......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
32 books & journal articles
  • THE TRAJECTORY OF FEDERAL GUN CRIMES.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 170 Nbr. 3, February 2022
    • February 1, 2022
    ...2017), https://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/crim/492 [https://perma.cc/95QW-QJD9]. (9) See infra Section II.C. (10) Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 921-22 (1997); United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 575-77 (11) WILLIAM J. STUNTZ, THE COLLAPSE OF AMERICAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE 306 (2011). (1......
  • Article II Separation of Powers and the President's Enforcement Right
    • United States
    • The Clean Water Act and the Constitution. Legal Structure and the Public's Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment Part II
    • April 20, 2009
    ...of such enforcement . . . are executive functions,” 16 and the executive’s discretion in seeking judicial 8. U.S. Const. art. II, §3. 9. 521 U.S. 898 (1997). 10. Id. at 922-23 (citing Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist No. 70; 2 Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution 49......
  • Rethinking the Supreme Court’s Interstate Waters Jurisprudence
    • United States
    • Georgetown Environmental Law Review Nbr. 33-2, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...amendments for having “crossed the line distinguishing encouragement from coercion” of states). 124. See, e.g., Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 907 (1997) (“It is understandable why courts should have been viewed distinctively . . . unlike legislatures and executives, they applied th......
  • Limits on Federal Water Quality Regulation: The Tenth Amendment, the Commerce Clause, and Clean Water Act 'Navigable Waters
    • United States
    • The Clean Water Act and the Constitution. Legal Structure and the Public's Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment Part I
    • April 20, 2009
    .... at 959. 106. 133 F.3d 251, 28 ELR 20299 (4th Cir. 1997). 107. Id . at 256 (citing Lopez , 514 U.S. at 558-59; Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997); Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (1996); New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 22 ELR 21082 (1992)). 108. Id . at 257. 109. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 provisions
  • Chapter 277, HB 2694 – Create the 2nd Amendment Preservation Act
    • United States
    • West Virginia Session Laws
    • January 1, 2021
    ...is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty". Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (6) There is a genuine concern among a significant number of West Virginians that the executive branch of the federal government is poised t......
  • Chapter 282, HB 258 – Revise laws related to firearms, ammunition, and accessories
    • United States
    • Montana Session Laws
    • January 1, 2021
    ...States constitution, Article II, section 12, of the Montana constitution, Montana's compact with the United States, and Printz v. U.S., 521 U.S. 898 Section 3. Definitions. As used in [sections 1 through 4], the following definitions apply: (1) "Federal ban" means a federal law, executive o......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT