United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 99-5. Argued January 11, 2000—Decided May 15, 2000*

Petitioner Brzonkala filed suit, alleging, inter alia, that she was raped by respondents while the three were students at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and that this attack violated 42 U. S. C. 13981, which provides a federal civil remedy for the victims of gender-motivated violence. Respondents moved to dismiss on the grounds that the complaint failed to state a claim and that 13981's civil remedy is unconstitutional. Petitioner United States intervened to defend the section's constitutionality. In dismissing the complaint, the District Court held that it stated a claim against respondents, but that Congress lacked authority to enact 13981 under either the Commerce Clause or 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which Congress had explicitly identified as the sources of federal authority for 13981. The en banc Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Held: Section 13981 cannot be sustained under the Commerce Clause or

5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 607-627.

(a) The Commerce Clause does not provide Congress with authority to enact 13981's federal civil remedy. A congressional enactment will be invalidated only upon a plain showing that Congress has exceeded its constitutional bounds. See United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 568, 577-578. Petitioners assert that 13981 can be sustained under Congress' commerce power as a regulation of activity that substantially affects interstate commerce. The proper framework for analyzing such a claim is provided by the principles the Court set out in Lopez. First, in Lopez, the noneconomic, criminal nature of possessing a firearm in a school zone was central to the Court's conclusion that Congress lacks authority to regulate such possession. Similarly, gender-motivated crimes of violence are not, in any sense, economic activity. Second, like the statute at issue in Lopez, 13981 contains no jurisdictional element establishing that the federal cause of action is in pursuance of Congress' regulation of interstate commerce. Although Lopez makes clear that such a jurisdictional element would lend support to the argument that 13981 is sufficiently tied to interstate commerce

*Together with No. 99-29, Brzonkala v. Morrison et al., also on certiorari to the same court.

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