U.S. v. Lopez
514 U.S. 549 (1995), Vote of 5 to 4, Rehnquist for the court.
Congress in 1990 enacted the Gun-Free School Zone Act, making it a federal offence to possess a firearm in a school zone. Congress relied on the authority of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to justify passage of legislation as a way of stemming the rising tide of gun related incidents in public schools.
In 1992 Alfonso Lopez, Jr. was a senior at Edison High School in San Antonio, Texas. Acting on an anonymous tip, school authorities confronted Lopez and discovered that he was carrying a .38 caliber handgun and five bullets. A federal grand jury subsequently indicted Lopez, who then moved to have the indictment dismissed on grounds that the federal government had no authority to legislate control over the public schools. At a bench trial, the federal district court judge found Lopez guilty and sentenced him to six months' imprisonment and two years' supervised release. Lopez then appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which reversed the conviction and held the Gun-Free School Zone Act unconstitutional as an invalid exercise dy congress of the commerce power.
The Lopez case posed the question of the extent to which Congress could exercise authority over street crime and, in so doing, intrude into constitutional space traditionally occupied by the states. Since the New Deal of the 1930's, the Supreme Court had accepted that Congress had broad authority to regulate virtually every aspect of American life under the cover of the federal Commerce Clause. Moreover, the bombing of the federal office building in Okalahoma City, while it had occurred after the passage of the Gun-Free School Zone Act, created a political environment where the Clinton administration and the Republican congressional leaders believed that the federal government had to combat domestic terrorist groups and the weapons that they used.
The case drew considerable attention from diverse interest groups. The...
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