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United States v. Morrison

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

Morrison, who allegedly sexually assaulted a fellow student, challenged Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause to enact a provision of the Violence Against Women Act.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Congress may regulate intrastate activity under the Commerce Clause only where that activity is economic in nature.


Brzonkala, a student at Virginia Tech, was allegedly sexually assaulted multiple times by Morrison. She sued him under section 13981 of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides victims of gender-motivated violence the right to sue their attackers in federal court. Morrison is arguing that Congress exceeded their authority in enacting this section. The federal government intervened to defend the section’s constitutionality.


Is section 13981 of the Violence Against Women Act a constitutional exercise of Congress’ commerce power?


Appeals court ruling affirmed.


Justice Souter, with whom Justice Stevens, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Breyer join

The aggregate effects of sexual assault are economically felt and thus proper for regulation by Congress, via the Commerce Clause.

Justice Breyer, with whom Justice Stevens joins, and with whom Justice Souter and Justice Ginsburg join in part

The law in this area is unstable and time and experience may demonstrate the unworkability of the majority’s rules.


Justice Thomas

He noted that while he agrees with the majority’s application of Lopez, he disagrees with the standard for review the majority put forth.


The Court noted that the result here was controlled by United States v. Lopez (1995). Thus far, the Court had upheld Commerce Clause regulation of intrastate activity only where that activity is economic in nature. However, gender-motivated crimes of violence are not economic activity. Further, the regulation and punishment of intrastate violence that is not directed at the instrumentalities, channels, or goods involved in interstate commerce has always been the province of the States. Congress must not use the Commerce Clause to completely obliterate the Constitution’s distinction between national and local authority.

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