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 Brzonkala a student in Virginia Polytechnic Institute, filed suit, alleging, that she was raped by respondents while they were attending the university, and that this attack violated 42 U.S.C. § 13981, which provides 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 is 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.
Are gender-motivated crimes within the authority of Congress to enact under the Commerce Clause?
The court affirmed the decision of the lower court and 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 § 13981should be struck down as it was outside Congress's remedial power under U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 5. 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. Instead, the subject statute redressed private discrimination and was outside Congress' power to enact.