Lopez, was caught in
possession of a gun his high school in San Antonio, Texas. He was charged
with violating a Federal Statute banning guns in school (Gun-Free
School Zones Act of 1990, (aka 18
The Trial Court convicted
Lopez. He appealed.
Lopez argued that 18
U.S.C. §922(q) was unconstitutional
because Congress didn't have the power to make such a law.
The US argued that
possession of a firearm in a school zone can be expected to lead to violent
crime, which can be expected to affect economy and traveling in the area,
as well as to produce a citizenry with less of an education due to the
distraction of the violent crime and in the long-term, a weaker economy.
Thus, possession of a firearm at a school falls under jurisdiction of the
Interstate Commerce Clause.
The US Supreme Court found 18
U.S.C. §922(q) to be
The US Supreme Court found
that while Congress had broad lawmaking authority under the Interstate
Commerce Clause, it was not
unlimited, and did not apply to something as far from commerce as
carrying handguns, especially when there was no evidence that carrying
them affected the economy on a massive scale.
The Court found that
possession of a gun near a school is not an economic activity that has a
substantial effect on interstate commerce. A law prohibiting guns near
schools is a criminal statute
that does not relate to commerce or any sort of economic activity.
The Court found that
Congress had the power to regulate only:
The channels of commerce,
The instrumentalities of
commerce, or persons or things in interstate commerce, even if the
threat comes from intrastate activities, and
Action that substantially
affects interstate commerce.
The Court reasoned that if
Congress could regulate something so far removed from commerce, then it
could regulate anything, and since
the Constitution clearly creates Congress as a body with enumerated
powers, this could not be so.
The Court suggested a
four-factor test to determine if an activity was within Congress' power
to regulate under the Interstate Commerce Clause:
Whether the activity was
non-economic as opposed to economic activity.
Whether the items involved
(in this case the gun) had moved in interstate commerce.
Whether there had been
Congressional findings of an economic link between guns and education.
How attenuated the link was
between the regulated activity and interstate commerce.
In a dissent it was argued
that this law would not open the floodgates to allow Congress to regulate
"A holding that a
particular Statute before us falls within the commerce power would not
expand the scope of that Clause. Rather it simply would apply
pre-existing law to changing economic circumstances."
They also argued that
previous decisions didn't depend on whether or not the actual activity
was commerce, only that it "exerted a substantial economic effect on
Interstate Commerce." (See Wickard v. Filburn (317 U.S. 111 (1942))).
They also argued that this
ruling jeopardized a whole bunch of other Congressional Statutes that use
Unlike the ruling in Katzenbach
v. McClung (379 U.S. 294 (1964)), the
Court in this case decided that they should not be maximally deferential
to Congress, since they are the ones who are supposed to determine what
the limits of the Interstate Commerce Clause is. This Court
decided that they had the right to step in and limit Congressional power,
and the Court would decide what was and wasn't part of the Interstate
In a later case, (United
States v. Morrison (529 U.S. 598
(2000))) the Court found that Congress could not make such laws even when
there was evidence of aggregate affect on the economy.