Brief Fact Summary.
Two local law enforcement officers challenged the constitutionality of the Brady Act’s interim provision to run background checks before issuing firearms purchase permits.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Congress may not compel a state or local government to implement federal regulatory programs, even temporarily.
The laws of the United States are laws in the several States, and just as much binding on the citizens and courts thereof as the State laws are.View Full Point of Law
Congress passed the Brady Act, which required the implementation of a national computerized background check system. In the time before the national background check system would be fully digitized and operative, interim provisions required that state and local law enforcement officers do background checks before issuing permits to buy firearms. Two local law enforcement officers challenged the constitutionality of the Brady Act’s interim provisions.
May Congress compel a state or local law enforcement to do background checks before issuing permits to buy firearms?
No, because the federal government may not compel the States to implement federal regulatory programs.
Justice Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer
The Tenth Amendment does not purport to limit the scope or the effectiveness of the exercise of powers that are delegated to Congress.
The Court distinguishes between requiring state officers to perform discrete, ministerial tasks specified by Congress and forcing state governments to absorb the financial burden of implementing a federal regulatory program. Forcing state and local law enforcement to do background checks before issuing firearms permits is akin to forcing them to implement federal regulatory programs. Congress cannot take away a state’s sovereignty.