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United States v. Morrison

Citation. 529 U.S. 598, 120 S. Ct. 1740, 146 L. Ed. 2d 658, 2000 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Respondent, Morrison (Respondent), was sued under part of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (Act), which penalized crimes of violence motivated by gender. Now Respondent argues this section of the Act is beyond the scope of Congress’ power to regulate commerce.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Intrastate actions must be economic in nature to be viewed in aggregate by courts reviewing a Commerce Clause case.


Christy Brzonkala enrolled at Virginia Tech in the fall of 1994. Shortly after enrolling, she was allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulted by two varsity football players, including Respondent. After the incident Brzonkala suffered severe emotional distress. She twice participated in academic hearings against Respondent and later dropped out of the school. She finally brought suit against the two male students, including the Respondent and the university in Federal District Court.


Is Section: 13981 of the Act a constitutional exercise of Congress’ commerce power?


No. Appeals court ruling affirmed.
Applying the three-prong test from Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995), the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) determined that violence against women does not substantially affect interstate commerce.
The Supreme Court further defined the aggregate effects test (see Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942)) by noting that intrastate activities must be considered in the aggregate only if the activities themselves are economic in nature.


Justice David Souter (J. Souter), dissenting, argued that the aggregate effects of sexual assault are economically felt and therefore proper subject for regulation by the commerce power.
Concurrence. Justice Clarence Thomas (J. Thomas) concurs, but reiterates his belief that the Supreme Court should develop a new standard for review of Commerce Clause cases.


United States v. Morrison makes clear that Lopez is not a speed bump in the Supreme Court’s Commerce Clause jurisprudence, but rather a new direction altogether. The Supreme Court is more capable of reining in congressional action as not substantially related to interstate commerce.

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