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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Morrison - 529 U.S. 598, 120 S. Ct. 1740 (2000)


Modern Commerce Clause jurisprudence has identified three broad categories of activity that Congress may regulate under its commerce power. First, Congress may regulate the use of the channels of interstate commerce. Second, Congress is empowered to regulate and protect the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, or persons or things in interstate commerce, even though the threat may come only from intrastate activities. Finally, Congress' commerce authority includes the power to regulate those activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce, namely, those activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.


Petitioner Christy Brzonkala enrolled at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) in the fall of 1994. In September of that year, Brzonkala met respondents Antonio Morrison and James Crawford, who were students at Virginia Tech and members of its varsity football team. Brzonkala alleges that, within 30 minutes of meeting Morrison and Crawford, they assaulted and repeatedly raped her. Subsequently, Brzonkala filed suit, alleging that she was raped by respondents and that this attack violated 42 U.S.C. § 13981, which provided a federal civil remedy for the victims of gender-motivated violence. Respondents moved to dismiss on the grounds that the complaint failed to state a claim and that § 13981's civil remedy was unconstitutional. Petitioner United States intervened to defend the section's constitutionality. In dismissing the complaint, the District Court held that it stated a claim against respondents, but that Congress lacked authority to enact § 13981 under either § 8 of the Commerce Clause or § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which Congress had explicitly identified as the sources of federal authority for § 13981. The en banc Fourth Circuit affirmed, rejecting petitioners' argument that § 13981 was a regulation of activity that substantially affected interstate commerce.


Did Congress lack authority to enact § 13981 under either § 8 of the Commerce Clause or § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment?




On writs of certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States held that gender-motivated crimes of violence were not considered economic activity, and therefore, the Commerce Clause did not vest Congress with the authority to enact a statute regulating such. Moreover, the Court affirmed that the civil remedy contained in § 13981 should be struck down as it was outside Congress's remedial power under U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 5. According to the Court, the civil remedy was not found to be corrective in its character nor adapted to counteract and redress the operation of such prohibited state laws or proceedings of state officers. Affirming the judgment, the Court averred that the subject statute redressed private discrimination and was outside Congress' power to enact.

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