D was a 12th grade student who brought a gun to school. He was caught and arrested.
D was convicted under the federal Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990 which made it a federal crime to possess a firearm within 1000 feet of a school zone.
D argued that the Act was an unconstitutional use of Congress's Commerce Clause power.
District Court found D guilty.
COA reversed, statute unconstitutional.
SCOTUS affirmed, statute unconstitutional.
What activities can Congress regulate under its commerce power?
When does an activity have a substantial relation to interstate commerce?
Congress may regulate under its commerce power…
The use of the channels of interstate commerce.
The instrumentalities of interstate commerce, or persons or things in interstate commerce.
Activities that have a substantial relation to interstate commerce. Factors to consider...
Whether the activity was non-economic as opposed to economic activity; previous cases involved economic activity.
Jurisdictional element: whether the good had moved in interstate commerce.
Whether there had been Congressional findings of an economic link with the regulated activity.
How attenuated the link was between the regulated activity and interstate commerce.
The Constitution creates a gov't of enumerated powers; "the powers delegated by the Constitution to the federal gov't are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State gov'ts are numbers and indefinite." (Madison)
In looking at activities that Congress may regulate using Commerce Clause power, the proper test requires an analysis of whether the regulated activity "substantially affects" interstate commerce.
Possession of a gun in a school zone does not affect economic activity in the way that previous cases allow.
Possession of a gun is in no sense an economic activity that might, through repetition elsewhere, substantially affect any sort of interstate commerce.
There is no jurisdictional element in the statute requiring any kind of interstate movement.
Neither the statute nor the legislative history contain express findings regarding the effects of gun possession in school zones upon interstate commerce.
The argument about how guns in school zones affects interstate commerce is tenuous at best (costs of crime are high, guns hinder education - leads to less-educated workforce).
Following this line of reasoning, there would be almost nothing that Congress could not regulate; some power must be reserved to the states.
To uphold the gov't contention, Court would have to pile inference upon inference; would convert congressional authority to a general police power usually held by the states.
The statute upsets the federal balance to a degree that renders it an unconstitutional assertion of the commerce power.
Neither the actors nor their conduct has a commercial characteristic, and neither the purposes nor design of the statute has an evident commercial nexus.
Education is traditionally a concern of the states.
Court has a duty to ensure that the federal-state balance is not destroyed.
While it is doubtful that any state would argue that it is wise policy to allow students to carry guns to school, considerable disagreement exists about how to best accomplish that goal; states should be the laboratories.
Case law has drifted far from the original understanding of the Commerce Clause.
Court ought to temper its Commerce Clause jurisprudence in a manner that both makes sense of the more recent cause law and is more faithful to the original understanding of the clause.
The Constitution uses the word "commerce" in a more narrow sense than case law might suggest; it also does not support the proposition that Congress has the authority over all activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.
Much if not all of Art I Sec 8 would be surplusage if Congress had been given authority over matters that substantially affect interstate commerce. An interpretation that makes the rest of Sec 8 superfluous cannot be correct.
Congress could regulate all matters that substantially affect the army, bankruptcies, tax collections, etc. In that case, all clauses of Sec 8 overlap, something the framers did not intend.
Because of the aggregation principle, the substantial effects test suffers in that it appears to grant Congress police power over the nation.
If Congress passed an omnibus "substantially affects interstate commerce" statute that regulated every aspect of human existence, that would be constitutional under majority rule.
Guns are both articles of commerce and articles that can be used to restrain commerce.
Their possession is the result of commercial activity.
Congress's power to regulate commerce in firearms includes the power to prohibit possession of guns at any location because of their potentially harmful use.
Whether or not the national interest in eliminating that market would have justified federal legislation in 1789, it surely does today.
Regulation addresses a subject substantially affecting interstate commerce if there is any rational basis for such a finding. If that congressional determination is within the realm of reason, the Court must allow it if the method chose is reasonably adapted to the end.
The distinction between what is commercial and what is not looks like the old distinction between what directly affects commerce and what touches it only indirectly.
This decision returns the Court to the untenable position held 60 years ago with the New Deal strike-downs.
Precedent runs against the majority.
Three basic principles of Commerce Clause interpretation…
The power to regulate commerce among the several states encompasses power to regulate local activities insofar as they significantly affect interstate commerce.
In determining whether a local activity will likely have a significant effect upon interstate commerce, a court must consider, not the effect of an individual act, but rather the cumulative effect of all similar instances.
The Constitution requires the Court to judge the connection between a regulated activity and interstate commerce, not directly, but at one remove.
Must give Congress leeway in determining the existence of a significant factual connection between the regulated activity and the interstate commerce. ("rational basis")
Numerous reports and studies make clear that Congress could have reasonably found the empirical connection that the statute asserts.
Congress could have found, given the effect of education upon interstate commerce, that gun-related violence in and around schools is a commercial, as well as human, problem.
Congress has written that "the occurrence of violent crime in school zones" has brought about a "decline in the quality of education" that "has an adverse impact on interstate commerce."
Majority's holding creates three serious legal problems…
Runs contrary to modern SC cases that have upheld congressional actions despite connections to interstate commerce that are less significant than the effect of school violence.
Believes the Constitution would distinguish between two local activities, each of which has an identical effect upon interstate commerce, if one, but not the other, is "commercial" in nature.
Threatens legal uncertainty in an area of law that seemed reasonably well settled.