United States v. Morrison


Defendant was sued by a female who accused him of rape.  Defendant was not convicted at trial. The Violence Against Women Act states “all persons within the United States shall have the right to be free from crimes of violence motivated by gender.” It provided that people could sue when they were victims of gender oriented violence.


Whether Congress may pass a law that provides for a civil remedy for gender-oriented violence pursuant to the inter-state commerce power.


No, VAWA invalidated.  The court argued that there are enumerated powers given to the federal government, and that some matters are inherently local.  Prior court decisions (Lopez) invalidated Congress’s ability to regulate interstate activity pursuant to the interstate commerce clause, where the activity was not “directly commercial or economic.”  Despite the Plaintiff’s argument that the aggregation of gender oriented violent acts amounted to a substantial impact, the Court stated that the economic impact of the crimes was too indirect to utilize commerce clause authority.

The court stated that the distinction between economic/commercial and non-economic/non-commercial was important to sustain principles of federalism and local/state general police power.  If the court did not distinguish between the two, Congress would have limitless authority to regulate essentially anything, because nearly anything can be said to have an indirect impact on commerce if considered in the aggregate.

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