On May 15, 2000, the United States Supreme Court held that a portion of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was an unconstitutional exercise of congressional power. The holding of this case and the unconstitutionality eventually resulted in the “freedom” of Antonio J. Morrison, who evaded charges under the act that would provide a victim, Christy Brzonkala, of gender-motivated violence a cause of action against the perpetrator for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages. This case was properly decided --- the statute off of which Antonio Morrison was getting sued was unconstitutional on two counts: the first, the Commerce Clause, and the second, Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, rejecting both as proper constitutional bases for the Violence Against Women Act. The Court considered separately the legislative findings regarding the economic effect of gender-based violence and the states’ failure to provide relief to victims. The falls under Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce, and the second is related to Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The immorality of the majority decision proved too much for many Americans—but that is the law.
In rejecting the Commerce Clause as a source of backing up VAWA, the Court characterized gender-based violence as non-economic and non-commercial activity, and thus avoided consideration of its aggregate economic effects. The Commerce Clause interpretation used in 2000 was the one developed by the Lopez Court six years earlier. The interpretation clarified that Congress may regulate channels of interstate commerce, instrumentalities used in interstate commerce, and activities that substantially affect interstate commerce. The VAWA only affected the 3rd factor, as it was certainly wasn’t regarding channels or transportation means in interstate commerce. Since VAWA provided a remedy for a conduct that was concededly not itself interstate commerce nor necessarily in interstate commerce, the...
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