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Legal Brief of Printz v. United States (1997) By: David A.W. Hittle

(1)  Printz v. United States (1997) vote: 5-4 pg. 339 521 U.S. 898; 117 S. Ct. 2365; 138 L. Ed. 2d. 914 (1997)


(2)  The Facts of the Case are these: In 1993, Congress amended the [Gun Control Act of 1968] by enacting the Brady Act. The Act required the Attorney General to establish a national instant background check system by November 30, 1998… and immediately put into place certain interim provisions until that system becomes operational. (1) A firearms dealer must first receive from the transferee a statement, (2) Verify the identity of the transferee, (3) Provide the “Chief Law Enforcement Officer” of the transferees residence with notice of the contents of the statement. Furthermore The Brady Act creates two alternatives to the foregoing scheme. A dealer may sell a handgun immediately if the purchaser possesses a state handgun permit issued after a background check or if state law provides for an instant background check. Petitioners: Jay Printz and Richard Mack, the CLEO’s for Ravalli County, Montana and Graham County, Arizona respectively, filled separate actions challenging the constitutionality of the Brady Act.


(3)  The Main Issues in the Case are these: 1. Does Congress have a right under the Constitution to press state law enforcement officials (CLEO’s) in to federal service?


(4)  The Decision of the Court is as follows: By a 5-4 ruling the Court finds that the Federal Court may not compel states to enact or administer a federal regulatory program, the mandatory obligation imposed on CLEO’s to perform background checks on prospective handgun purchasers plainly runs afoul of the rule. Congress cannot compel the states to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program, and cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the State’s officials directly.


(5)  Justice Scalia provided the majority opinion of the Court: they found that since the federal government had no authority to compel the states to enforce a federal regulatory program, the federal government also cannot compel the state’s officials to enforce federal laws either.


(6)  Justice O`Connor and Thomas concurred and opined that they believed that the Court properly held that the Brady Act violates the Tenth Amendment in that it compels State Law Enforcement officers to “administer or enforce a federal regulatory program.” They explain that they wrote a separate opinion to emphasis that the Tenth Amendment affirms the undeniable notions that under the Constitution, the Federal Government is one of enumerated, hence limited, powers…


Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Souter, Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer join, dissenting. They find that: “When congress exercises powers delegated to it by the Constitution, it may impose an affirmative obligation of executive or judicial officers of state and local governments as well as ordinary citizens. They believe that the Court had no basis to make this decision as found from this: “More narrowly, what basis is there in any of those sources for concluding that it is the Members of this Court, rather than the elected Representatives of the people who should determine whether the Constitution contains the unwritten rule that the Court announces… Furthermore: There is no clause, sentence, or paragraph in the entire text of the Constitution of the United States that supports the proposition that a local police officer can ignore a command contained in a statute enacted by Congress…


(7)  This case made it clear the Federal Government couldn’t compel a state to enforce a federal regulatory program, through the ordering of state officials. This case explains why “Sanctuary Cities” can get away with allowing the housing of illegal immigrants because of this case states don’t have to enforce a federal regulatory program. However my question is, in the case of Arizona and its immigration law; do the states have the right to enforce a federal law, which the federal government doesn’t wish to enforce?