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Congressional Power to Regulate

    Justice BREYER focuses, for the most part, on the threat that firearm possession in and near schools poses to the educational process and the potential economic consequences flowing from that threat. Specifically, the dissent reasons that (1) gun-related violence is a serious problem; (2) that problem, in turn, has an adverse effect on classroom learning; and (3) that adverse effect on classroom learning, in turn, represents a substantial threat to trade and commerce. This analysis would be equally applicable, if not more so, to subjects such as family law and direct regulation of education.

    For instance, if Congress can, pursuant to its Commerce Clause power, regulate activities that adversely affect the learning environment, then, a fortiori, it also can regulate the educational process directly. Congress could determine that a school’s curriculum has a “significant” effect on the extent of classroom learning. As a result, Congress could mandate a federal curriculum for local elementary and secondary schools because what is taught in local schools has a significant “effect on classroom learning,” and that, in turn, has a substantial effect on interstate commerce.

    Justice BREYER rejects our reading of precedent and argues that “Congress . . . could rationally conclude that schools fall on the commercial side of the line.” Again, Justice BREYER’s rationale lacks any real limits because, depending on the level of generality, any activity can be looked upon as commercial. Under the dissent’s rationale, Congress could just as easily look at child rearing as “fall[ing] on the commercial side of the line” because it provides a “valuable service—namely, to equip [children] with the skills they need to survive in life and, more specifically, in the workplace.” We do not doubt that Congress has authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate numerous commercial activities that substantially affect interstate commerce and also affect the educational process. That authority, though broad, does not include the authority to regulate each and every aspect of local schools.

    Admittedly, a determination whether an intrastate activity is commercial or noncommercial may in some cases result in legal uncertainty. But, so long as Congress’ authority is limited to those powers enumerated in the Constitution, and so long as those enumerated powers are interpreted as having judicially enforceable outer limits, congressional legislation under the Commerce Clause always will engender “legal uncertainty.” . . . .

    In Jones & Laughlin Steel, we held that the question of congressional power under the Commerce Clause “is necessarily one of degree.” To the same effect is the concurring opinion of Justice Cardozo in Schecter Poultry:

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