United States v. Lopez
Annotate this Case
514 U.S. 549 (1995)
OCTOBER TERM, 1994
UNITED STATES v. LOPEZ
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
No. 93-1260. Argued November 8, 1994-Decided April 26, 1995
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)(I)(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 that 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. 552-568.
2 F.3d 1342, 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, post, p. 568. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 584. STEVENS, J., post, p. 602, and SOUTER, J., post, p. 603, filed dissenting opinions. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined, post, p. 615.
Solicitor General Days argued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Assistant Attorney General Harris, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, Malcolm L. Stewart, and John F. De Pue.
John R. Carter argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Lucien B. Campbell, Henry J. Bemporad, Carter G. Phillips, and Adam D. Hirsh.*
*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for 16 Members of the United States Senate et al. by Debra A. Valentine, Brady C. Williamson, and Jeffrey J. Kassel; for the State of Ohio et al. by Lee Fisher, Attorney General of Ohio, John P. Ware, Assistant Attorney General, Richard A. Cordray, State Solicitor, Simon B. Karas, G. Oliver Koppell, Attorney General of New York, and Vanessa Ruiz; for the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence et al. by Erwin N. Griswold, Dennis A. Henigan, and Gail A. Robinson; for Children NOW et al. by William F. Abrams; for the Clarendon Foundation by Ronald D. Maines; for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence et al. by Brian J. Benner; and for the National School Safety Center et al. by James A. Rapp.
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the National Conference of State Legislatures et al. by Richard Ruda and Barry Friedman; and for the Pacific Legal Foundation by Ronald A. Zumbrun and Anthony T. Caso.
Briefs of amici curiae were filed for Academics for the Second Amendment et al. by Patrick J. Basial, Don B. Kates, Robert Carter, Henry Mark Holzer, Nicholas J. Johnson, Joseph E. Olson, Daniel Polsby, Charles E. Rice, Wallace Rudolph, Justin Smith, Robert B. Smith, George Strickler, Richard Warner, and Robert Weisberg; and for the Texas Justice Foundation by Clayton Trotter.