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Excerpts From Majority Opinion and Dissent In Gun-Free School Zones Case

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Following are excerpts from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Lopez:

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

In the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, Congress made it a federal offense "for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone." The Act neither regulates a commercial activity nor contains a requirement that the possession be connected in any way to interstate commerce. We hold that the Act exceeds the authority of Congress "to regulate Commerce ... among the several States." U.S. Const. Article I. ...

[The Act] 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. ...

[U]nder the Government's "national productivity" reasoning, Congress could regulate any activity that it found was related to the economic productivity of individual citizens: family law (including marriage, divorce, and child custody), for example. Under the theories the Government presents in support of [the Act], it is difficult to perceive any limitation on federal power, even in areas such as criminal-law enforcement or education where States historically have been sovereign. Thus, if we were to accept the Government's arguments, we are hard-pressed to posit any activity by an individual that Congress is without power to regulate. ...

For instance, if Congress can, pursuant to its Commerce Clause power, regulate activities that adversely affect the learning environment, then, a fortiori, it also can regulate the educational process directly. Congress could determine that a school's curriculum has a "significant" effect on the extent of classroom learning. As a result, Congress could mandate a federal curriculum for local elementary and secondary schools because what is taught in local schools has a significant "effect" on classroom learning, and that, in turn, has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. ...

We do not doubt that Congress has authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate numerous commercial activities that substantially affect interstate commerce and also affect the educational process. That authority, though broad, does not include the authority to regulate each and every aspect of local schools. ...

Justice Breyer, with whom Justice Stevens, Justice Souter, and Justice Ginsburg join, dissenting:

... Could Congress rationally have found that violent crime in school zones, through its effect on the quality of education, significantly (or substantially) affects interstate or foreign commerce? As long as one views the commerce connection, not as a technical legal conception, but as a practical one, the answer to this question must be yes. ...

For one thing, reports, hearings, and other readily available literature make clear that the problem of guns in and around schools is widespread and extremely serious. ...

Congress could therefore have found a substantial educational problem--teachers unable to teach, students unable to learn--and concluded that guns near schools contribute substantially to the size and scope of that problem. ...

... Congress could have also found, given the effect of education upon interstate and foreign commerce, that gun-related violence in and around schools is a commercial, as well as a human, problem. ...

In sum, a holding that the particular statute before us falls within the commerce power would not expand the scope of that Clause. ... It would recognize that, in today's economic world, gun-related violence near the classroom makes a significant difference to our economic, as well as our social, well-being. ..

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