Congress may regulate the use of the channels of interstate commerce. 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. Congress' commerce authority includes the power to regulate those activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce, i.e., those activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.
A 12th-grade student was charged with the knowing possession of a firearm at a school zone in violation of the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which prohibits any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone (defined as in, or on the grounds of, a public, parochial, or private school or within a distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of such a school). The trial court convicted the student and concluded that the Act was a constitutional exercise of Congress' power to regulate activities in and affecting commerce, and that the business of elementary, middle, and high schools affects interstate commerce. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed claiming that the Act exceeded the power of Congress to legislate under the commerce clause. The case was elevated by writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Did Congress exceed its power to legislate under the Commerce Clause?
The Court held that the GFSZA is a criminal statute that by its terms has nothing to do with "commerce" or any sort of economic enterprise, however broadly one might define those terms. The GFSZA is not an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity, in which the regulatory scheme could be undercut unless the intrastate activity were regulated. It cannot, therefore, be sustained as a regulation of activity that arises out of or is connected with a commercial transaction, which viewed in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce.