United States v. Morrison

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United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000), was a 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court invalidating a federal provision in VAWA which created a federal cause of action for domestic violence. The Court invalidated the provision of VAWA on the grounds that there was insufficient connection with interstate commerce.[1]

Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote this pro-federalism decision for the Court. He declared:[2]

We accordingly reject the argument that Congress may regulate noneconomic, violent criminal conduct based solely on that conduct's aggregate effect on interstate commerce. The Constitution requires a distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local. Lopez, 514 U.S. at 568 (citing Jones & Laughlin Steel, 301 U.S. at 30). In recognizing this fact we preserve one of the few principles that has been consistent since the Clause was adopted. 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. See, e.g., Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. 264, 6 Wheat. 264, 426, 428, 5 L. Ed. 257 (1821) (Marshall, C. J.) (stating that Congress "has no general right to punish murder committed within any of the States," and that it is "clear ... that congress cannot punish felonies generally"). Indeed, we can think of no better example of the police power, which the Founders denied the National Government and reposed in the States, than the suppression of violent crime and vindication of its victims. 8 See, e.g., Lopez, 514 U.S. at 566 ("The Constitution ... withholds from Congress a plenary police power"); id., at 584-585 (THOMAS, J., concurring) ("We always have rejected readings of the Commerce Clause and the scope of federal power that would permit Congress to exercise a police power"), 596-597, and n. 6 (noting that the first Congresses did not enact nationwide punishments for criminal conduct under the Commerce Clause).

This decision built on the federalism principle established in United States v. Lopez (1995), imposing limits on federal power to regulate non-economic activity that is local in nature.


  1. http://www.eagleforum.org/psr/2001/dec01/psrdec01.shtml#violence
  2. 529 U.S. at 617-19.