U.S. v. Lopez, 931260

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtREHNQUIST
Citation131 L.Ed.2d 626,514 U.S. 549,115 S.Ct. 1624
Docket Number931260
Decision Date26 April 1995
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner v. Alfonso LOPEZ, Jr

514 U.S. 549
115 S.Ct. 1624
131 L.Ed.2d 626
UNITED STATES, Petitioner

v.

Alfonso LOPEZ, Jr.

No. 93-1260.
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued Nov. 8, 1994.
Decided April 26, 1995.
Syllabus *

After respondent, then a 12th-grade student, carried a concealed handgun into his high school, he was charged with violating the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which forbids "any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that [he] knows . . . is a school zone," 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(1)(A). The District Court denied his motion to dismiss the indictment, concluding that § 922(q) is a constitutional exercise of Congress' power to regulate activities in and affecting commerce. In reversing, the Court of Appeals held that, in light of what it characterized as insufficient congressional findings and legislative history, § 922(q) is invalid as beyond Congress' power under the Commerce Clause.

Held: The Act exceeds Congress' Commerce Clause authority. First, although this Court has upheld a wide variety of congressional Acts regulating intrastate economic activity that substantially affected interstate commerce, the possession of a gun in a local school zone is in no sense an economic activity that might, through repetition elsewhere, have such a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Section 922(q) is a criminal statute that by its terms has nothing to do with "commerce" or any sort of economic enterprise, however broadly those terms are defined. Nor is it an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity, in which the regulatory scheme could be undercut unless the intrastate activity were regulated. It cannot, therefore, be sustained under the Court's cases upholding regulations of activities that arise out of or are connected with a commercial transaction, which viewed in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce. Second, § 922(q) contains no jurisdictional element which would ensure, through case-by-case inquiry, that the firearms possession in question has the requisite nexus with interstate commerce. Respondent was a local student at a local school; there is no indication that he had recently moved in interstate commerce, and there is no requirement that his possession of the firearm have any concrete tie to interstate commerce. To uphold the Government's contention that § 922(q) is justified because firearms possession in a local school zone does indeed substantially affect interstate commerce would require this Court to pile inference upon inference in a manner that would bid fair to convert congressional Commerce Clause authority to a general police power of the sort held only by the States. Pp. __.

2 F.3d 1342, (CA5 1993), affirmed.

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

Drew S. Days, III, New Haven, CT, for petitioner.

John R. Carter, Georgetown, TX, for respondent.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, Congress made it a federal offense "for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone." 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(1)(A) (1988 ed., Supp. V). The Act neither regulates a commercial activity nor contains a requirement that the possession be connected in any way to interstate commerce. We hold that the Act exceeds the authority of Congress "[t]o regulate Commerce . . . among the several States. . . ." U.S. Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 3.

On March 10, 1992, respondent, who was then a 12th-grade student, arrived at Edison High School in San Antonio, Texas, carrying a concealed .38 caliber handgun and five bullets. Acting upon an anonymous tip, school authorities confronted respondent, who admitted that he was carrying the weapon. He was arrested and charged under Texas law with firearm possession on school premises. See Tex.Penal Code Ann. § 46.03(a)(1) (Supp.1994). The next day, the state charges were dismissed after federal agents charged respondent by complaint with violating the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(1)(A) (1988 ed., Supp. V).1

A federal grand jury indicted respondent on one count of knowing possession of a firearm at a school zone, in violation of § 922(q). Respondent moved to dismiss his federal indictment on the ground that § 922(q) "is unconstitutional as it is beyond the power of Congress to legislate control over our public schools." The District Court denied the motion, concluding that § 922(q) "is a constitutional exercise of Congress' well-defined power to regulate activities in and affecting commerce, and the 'business' of elementary, middle and high schools . . . affects interstate commerce." App. to Pet. for Cert. 55a. Respondent waived his right to a jury trial. The District Court conducted a bench trial, found him guilty of violating § 922(q), and sentenced him to six months' imprisonment and two years' supervised release.

On appeal, respondent challenged his conviction based on his claim that § 922(q) exceeded Congress' power to legislate under the Commerce Clause. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed and reversed respondent's conviction. It held that, in light of what it characterized as insufficient congressional findings and legislative history, "section 922(q), in the full reach of its terms, is invalid as beyond the power of Congress under the Commerce Clause." 2 F.3d 1342, 1367-1368 (1993). Because of the importance of the issue, we granted certiorari, 511 U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 1536, 128 L.Ed.2d 189 (1994), and we now affirm.

We start with first principles. The Constitution creates a Federal Government of enumerated powers. See U.S. Const., Art. I, § 8. As James Madison wrote, "[t]he powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." The Federalist No. 45, pp. 292-293 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961). This constitutionally mandated division of authority "was adopted by the Framers to ensure protection of our fundamental liberties." Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 458, 111 S.Ct. 2395, 2400, 115 L.Ed.2d 410 (1991) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Just as the separation and independence of the coordinate branches of the Federal Government serves to prevent the accumulation of excessive power in any one branch, a healthy balance of power between the States and the Federal Government will reduce the risk of tyranny and abuse from either front." Ibid.

The Constitution delegates to Congress the power "[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." U.S. Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 3. The Court, through Chief Justice Marshall, first defined the nature of Congress' commerce power in Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 189-190, 6 L.Ed. 23 (1824):

"Commerce, undoubtedly, is traffic, but it is something more: it is intercourse. It describes the commercial intercourse between nations, and parts of nations, in all its branches, and is regulated by prescribing rules for carrying on that intercourse."

The commerce power "is the power to regulate; that is, to prescribe the rule by which commerce is to be governed. This power, like all others vested in Congress, is complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations, other than are prescribed in the constitution." Id., at 196. The Gibbons Court, however, acknowledged that limitations on the commerce power are inherent in the very language of the Commerce Clause.

"It is not intended to say that these words comprehend that commerce, which is completely internal, which is carried on between man and man in a State, or between different parts of the same State, and which does not extend to or affect other States. Such a power would be inconvenient, and is certainly unnecessary.

"Comprehensive as the word 'among' is, it may very properly be restricted to that commerce which concerns more States than one. . . . The enumeration presupposes something not enumerated; and that something, if we regard the language or the subject of the sentence, must be the exclusively internal commerce of a State." Id., at 194-195.

For nearly a century thereafter, the Court's Commerce Clause decisions dealt but rarely with the extent of Congress' power, and almost entirely with the Commerce Clause as a limit on state legislation that discriminated against interstate commerce. See, e.g., Veazie v. Moor, 14 How. 568, 573-575, 14 L.Ed. 545 (1853) (upholding a state-created steamboat monopoly because it involved regulation of wholly internal commerce); Kidd v. Pearson, 128 U.S. 1, 17, 20-22, 9 S.Ct. 6, 9-10, 32 L.Ed. 346 (1888) (upholding a state prohibition on the manufacture of intoxicating liquor because the commerce power "does not comprehend the purely domestic commerce of a State which is carried on between man and man within a State or between different parts of the same State"); see also L. Tribe, American Constitutional Law 306 (2d ed. 1988). Under this line of precedent, the Court held that certain categories of activity such as "production," "manufacturing," and "mining" were within the province of state governments, and thus were beyond the power of Congress under the Commerce Clause. See Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111, 121, 63 S.Ct. 82, 87, 87 L.Ed. 122 (1942) (describing development of Commerce Clause jurisprudence).

In 1887, Congress enacted the Interstate Commerce Act, 24 Stat. 379, and in 1890, Congress enacted the Sherman Antitrust Act, 26 Stat. 209, as amended,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2327 practice notes
  • Part II
    • United States
    • Federal Register November 30, 2005
    • November 30, 2005
    ...rates); and (3) [[Page 71894]] activities that substantially affect interstate commerce (e.g., labor standards). United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 558-559 (1995). The proposed regulation is consistent with the scope of the federal government's commerce power because it seeks to regulate......
  • Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002; Food facilities registration,
    • United States
    • Federal Register October 10, 2003
    • October 10, 2003
    ...power to legislate under the commerce clause is very broad. However, such power is not without limits, see United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 567 (1995); U.S. v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 618 (2000), and these limits have been construed in light of relevant and enduring In particular, in L......
  • Quarantine, inspection, and licensing: Communicable diseases control,
    • United States
    • Federal Register November 30, 2005
    • November 30, 2005
    ...rates); and (3) [[Page 71894]] activities that substantially affect interstate commerce (e.g., labor standards). United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 558-559 (1995). The proposed regulation is consistent with the scope of the federal government's commerce power because it seeks to regulate......
  • Separate Parts In This Issue Part VI Health and Human Services Department, Food and Drug Administration,
    • United States
    • Federal Register October 10, 2003
    • October 10, 2003
    ...power to legislate under the commerce clause is very broad. However, such power is not without limits, see United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 567 (1995); U.S. v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 618 (2000), and these limits have been construed in light of relevant and enduring In particular, in L......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2257 cases
  • U.S. v. Mariani, No. 98-CR-307.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • February 16, 2000
    ...Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. (Brf. in Support of Mot. to Dismiss at 16-25.) Relying on United States v. Lopez, , 514 U.S. 549, 115 S.Ct. 1624, 131 L.Ed.2d 626 (1995), McNally v. United States, supra, United States v. Bucuvalas, 970 F.2d 937 (1st Cir.1992), cert. denie......
  • Gobeille v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., No. 14–181.
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • March 1, 2016
    ...between the spheres of federal and state authority would blur and political responsibility would become illusory." United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 577, 115 S.Ct. 1624, 131 L.Ed.2d 626 (1995) (KENNEDY, J., concurring). Just because Congress can regulate some aspects of ERISA plans purs......
  • 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
    ...affects interstate commerce” if it “arise[s] out of or [is] connected with a commercial transaction.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 559, 115 S.Ct. 1624, 131 L.Ed.2d 626 (1995). By contrast, regulations of non-economic activity are disfavored. Id. at 567, 115 S.Ct. 1624 (striking dow......
  • 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
    ...need to allow federal regulation of a growing and unified national economy. In 1995, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 115 S.Ct. 1624, 131 L.Ed.2d 626 (1995), the first Supreme Court decision since the 1930s to rule that Congress had exceeded its commerce power......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
45 books & journal articles
  • The Centrality of Exclusion: Legal Impediments to Keeping 'Undesirable' People and Uses Out of the Community
    • United States
    • Land use planning and the environment: a casebook
    • January 23, 2010
    ...element may establish that the enactment is in pursuance of Congress’ regulation of interstate commerce.”); United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 561 (1995) (noting that statute in question “contains no jurisdictional element which would ensure, through case-by-case inquiry, that the [activ......
  • Navigable Waters
    • United States
    • Plain meaning, precedent, and metaphysics: interpreting the elements of the clean water act offense
    • October 24, 2017
    ...Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, S. Rep. No. 92-911 (1972), reprinted in 1 Legis. History, supra note 44, at 818. 54. 514 U.S. 549, 558-59 (1995). 55. See infra Chapter 4, Section III.F.1. Writing the plurality opinion in Rapanos v. United States , 547 U.S. 715, 735-36, 36 EL......
  • Rights, Structure, and Remediation: The Collapse of Constitutional Remedies.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 7, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...487-88 (1955). (170.) United States v. Carlton, 512 U.S. 26, 34 (1994) (quoting Ferguson, 372 U.S. at 730). (171.) United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 567 (172.) Jonathan H. Adler, The Conflict of Visions in NFIB v. Scbelius, 62 DRAKE L. REV. 937, 958-59 (2014). (173.) Perez v. Mortg. Ban......
  • Plain Meaning, Precedent, and Metaphysics: Interpreting the 'Navigble Waters' Element of the Clean Water Act Offense
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 45-6, June 2015
    • June 1, 2015
    ...Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, S. Rep. No. 92-911 (1972), reprinted in 1 Legis. History, supra note 48, at 818. 58. 514 U.S. 549, 558-59 (1995). to traditional navigable waters, but instead to waters that are directly or indirectly tributary to traditional navigable waters.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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