Congress passed the Violence
Against Women Act, (VAWA), which contained a provision (42
U.S.C. §13981) that allowed victims
of gender-based violence to sue in Federal court for damages, even when no
criminal charges were filed.
VAWA allowed victims to sue their attackers in
Federal court because of statistical evidence that States didn't
prosecute crimes against women as often as crimes against men.
Brzonkala was allegedly
assaulted and repeatedly raped by Morrison and Crawford. A State Grand
Jury did not find sufficient evidence, in its opinion, to charge either
man with a crime.
Brzonkala then sued Crawford
and Morrison under VAWA.
The Trial Court dismissed the
case. Brzonkala appealed.
The Trial Court found VAWA to be unconstitutional because Congress
lacked authority to enact it.
The Federal Appellate Court
reversed. Crawford and Morrison appealed.
Federal Appellate Court en
banc reheard the case, reversed the panel, upholding the Trial Court.
The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court found
that Congress lacked authority, under either the Interstate Commerce
Clause or the 14th Amendment,
to enact the law.
The Court found that
Congress did not have the power to enact VAWA under the 14th Amendment
The Court applied the State
Action Doctrine (see United
States v. Stanley (109 U.S. 3 (1883)), which allowed
segregation by striking down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, a Statute that prohibited racial
discrimination in public accommodations.
In Stanley, the Supreme Court found that the Equal
Protection Clause applied only to acts done by States, not
to those done by private individuals; because the Civil Rights Act
of 1875 applied to private
establishments, the Court said, it exceeded congressional power under
the 14th Amendment.
In this case, the Court
found that VAWA's civil remedy
for gender-motivated violence, because it was aimed at not State
action but at private violence,
The Court found that
Congress did not have the power to enact VAWA under the Interstate Commerce Clause,
because criminal violence has nothing to do with interstate commerce.