Printz v. United States

521 U.S. 898, 117 S. Ct. 2365 (1997)

 

RULE:

Congress cannot compel the states to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Congress cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the state's officers directly. The federal government may neither issue directives requiring the states to address particular problems, nor command the states' officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policymaking is involved, and no case-by-case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty. 

FACTS:

In 1993, Congress amended the Gun Control Act of 1968 by enacting the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act ("Brady Act"). The Brady Act mandated the establishment of a national system for instant criminal background checks of proposed handgun transferees. The Brady Act amended a detailed federal scheme that governed distribution of firearms established by the Gun Control Act of 1968. Interim provisions directed state law enforcement officers to participate in administration of a federally enacted regulatory scheme. Petitioners, chief law enforcement officials (CLEO) of their respective counties, objected to being pressed into federal service and contended that congressional action that compelled state officers to execute federal laws was unconstitutional. 

ISSUE:

Can Congress compel states to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

The Supreme Court agreed and held that the interim provisions violated constitutional principles of dual sovereignty and separation of powers. Congress could not compel states to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Congress could not circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the state's officers directly. The Brady Act effectively transferred the executive branch's responsibility to administer federal laws to thousands of CLEOs in 50 states, who were left to implement the program without meaningful presidential control.

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