United States v. Lopez


When it comes to possessing a gun in a school zone, United States v. Alfonso D. Lopez, Jr. (1995) said Congress can’t regulate a mere gun.

Here’s the facts about United States v. Alfonso D. Lopez, Jr. As a way of regulating a nation wide gun market, Congress passed the Gun-Free School Zones Act which made possessing a gun within a school zone a federal crime. Alfonso D. Lopez, Jr., a student at Edison High School in San Antonio, Texas, was convicted of violating the Act when he brought a concealed handgun to school.

Lopez raised a very interesting issue. Can Congress regulate non-economic activities under the commerce clause?

Here’s the rule in Lopez. Non-economic activities don’t substantially effect interstate commerce; therefore, Congress can’t regulate possession of a mere gun in a school zone. Moreover, the Act lacks a jurisdictional hook to connect interstate commerce to the regulating of a nation wide gun market.

Law professors feared armageddon with this case. They worried about the Supreme Court overturning the New Deal. If the New Deal was overturned, law professors said it would take us back to a time before the Lochner decision, and it would spell the end for the administrative state.

This case was part of the Rehnquist Revolution, which began in the 1980s. This case argued for federalism; that is, there is a sphere for federal power and a place for state power. Other famous Rehnquist Revolution cases included: Printz v. United States, New York v. United States, and United States v. Morrison. These cases argued for state sovereignty.

In dissent, Justice Souter said the holding of Lopez applied a pre-Lochner definition of substantial due process clause. He said, “[Lopez]is an exposition of the radical character of the Court’s holding and its kinship with the discredited, pre-Depression version of substantive due process.” With this case, the court was returning to a pre-depression reading of the substantial due process clause, which included the right to contract and a right to own a slave.

Overall, the Lopez case was about state sovereignty. Lopez said Congress cannot regulate possession of a mere gun because that isn’t economic activity; therefore, this case isn’t a commerce clause case and it never gets to the necessary but proper clause. Further, the case said a mere gun is a criminal matter for states to police. In the end, the Supreme Court reversed the Lopez conviction.