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United States v. Lopez

UNITED STATES V. LOPEZ

UNITED STATES V. LOPEZ, 514 U.S. 549 (1995), curtailed congressional regulatory authority under the Commerce Clause (U.S. Constitution, Article 1, section 8) and called into question the post-1937 understanding of judicial review and the separation of powers. From 1880 through 1937, the Supreme Court had often restrained congressional commerce power, relying on an artificial distinction between "manufacturing" and "commerce," as well as a supposed state sovereignty acknowledged by the Tenth Amendment. After 1937, however, the Court seemingly authorized unrestricted congressional power to regulate economic matters under its commerce power.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's opinion for a 5-4 majority in Lopez therefore came as a surprise, holding unconstitutional the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act on the grounds that school violence did not "substantially affect" interstate commerce. The majority relied on a distinction between "commercial" and "noncommercial" activity to delineate federal power. Justice Clarence Thomas, concurring, tried to disinter the manufacturing-commerce distinction. The dissenting justices would have upheld the statute, finding an adequate connection between interstate commerce and the effects of school violence.

United States v. Morrison (2000) confirmed the assumption that Lopez signaled a significant departure from previous commerce clause precedent. In striking down the federal Violence Against Women Act, Chief Justice Rehnquist for the same 5-4 majority extended the doctrine of Lopez to distinguish "truly national" from "truly local" activities. He ignored a former criterion that relied on the aggregate effects of the regulated activity and thereby seemed to be returning to a pre-1937 understanding of the commerce clause.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Lessig, Lawrence. "Translating Federalism: United States v. Lopez." Supreme Court Review 5 (1996): 125–215.

Tribe, Laurence H. American Constitutional Law. 3d ed. Mineola, N.Y.: Foundation Press, 2000.

William M.Wiecek

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