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Legal Brief of United States v. Lopez (1995) by: David A.W. Hittle

(1)  United States v. Lopez (1995) Vote: 5-4 pg. 145

514 U.S.; 115 S. Ct. 1624; 131 L. Ed. 2d. 2nd 626 (1995)


(2)  The Facts of the Case are these: 1. The Congress in 1990 enacted the Gun-Free-School-Zones-Act. This act made it a federal offense “for any individual knowingly to posses a firearm at a place that the individual knows is a school zone or has reasonable cause to believe is a school zone.” 2. A 12th grade student in San Antonio, Texas, was convicted under the statute after he was found to be carrying a concealed .38-caliber handgun and five bullets to school. 3. The Court of Appeals for the Firth Circuit reversed respondents conviction, holding the act was invalid because Congress had exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause.


(3)  The Main Ideas in this case are these: 1. Does Congress have the authority under the Commerce Clause to enact the “Gun-Free-School-Zones-Act?


(4)  In a 5-4 Decision the Court decided as follows: The Court found that Congress has no authority to regulate an area which is not “sustainably related or effecting commerce.” The Court found that a gun does not “substantially effect commerce.” The Court further stated that the act enacted by Congress is a “police power” reserved for the states’.


(5)  Chief Justice Rehnquist Delivered the Opinion of the Court: He opined that since the carrying of a gun has no bearing on the Commerce at all, then Congress is attempting to regulate a police power and something normally granted to the states’, therefore the law was overturned.


(6)  Justice Kennedy and Justice O`Connor joined concurring, Justice Thomas also concurred. However Justice Souter, Breyer, Stevens and Ginsburg joined in dissenting: They opined that because of violence with guns; around schools that this created the problem of teachers being unable to teach and students unable to learn and concluded that guns near schools contribute “sustainably” to the size and scope of the problem. They further opined that: “(1) the extent of the gun-related violence problem, (2) the extent of the resulting negative effect on classroom learning, and (3) the extent of the consequent negative commercial effects, when taken together, indicates a threat to trade and commerce that is “substantial.”


(7)  What this case did was back-track a bit on giving Congress the green light to regulate everything it wanted based on the Commerce Clause. This allowed the state to retain their “police powers” and keeping the federal government from interfering with states’ rights. This case gave Congress the red light on issues which do not “substantially” pertain to Commerce.