United States v. Morrison

Christy Brzonkala, a female student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, claimed that James Crawford and Antonio Morrison, two of her fellow students who played football, had assaulted her shortly after they had first met. She claims that Morrison even expressed his wish for her to be free of infections and mentioned to his companions during a meal in the dining hall of his dorm that he was accustomed to having intercourse with women after getting them drunk. After this ordeal, she says she was depressed and disturbed emotionally, and even sought the help of a psychiatrist.

Under the Sexual Assault Policy of the university, she filed a complaint against the two a year later. Though the hearing found Morrison guilty of assaulting Christy sexually, Crawford was to go unpunished as the evidence presented was not enough. Morrison was handed a two semesters suspension. Later, he was to again be found guilty after another hearing and still got the same sentence. He, however, appealed that decision to the administration of the school and this time the punishment was found to be excessive, and he was allowed to return to the university. When Brzonkala learnt through media that Morrison was to be reinstated, she stopped going to the school. She then decided to sue her university, Crawford, and Morrison in federal court. In her suit, she alleged that the attack on her by Crawford and Morrison went against the United States Code 13981. Crawford and Morrison then filed a response claiming the unconstitutionality of the stature. The complaint was dismissed after their response was accepted by the district court. The United States and Brzonkala then filed an appeal at the Supreme Court of the United States.


In light of the Commerce Clause, was it constitutionally correct for the Congress to have United States Code 13981 enacted?


To conclude that Congress has the authority to control only those activities that are economical and that have a significant relationship with interstate commerce, a variety of laws were taken into consideration by the court. When the United States and Brzonkala filed an appeal at the Supreme Court of the United States, they argued that Crawford and Morrison went against United States Code 13981. In responding to this, the court said that though a wide range of criminal activities were captured by the stature, it had some limits as directed by the subsection (e). Congress had argued that it enacted the stature through authority given to it by the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment, particularly the fifth section and also the first article of the constitution. The court addressed this issue by saying that the as the United States keeps developing the Commerce Clause interpretation cannot be the same, as spelled out by Lopez. An essential aspect in Lopez that was featured regarded the 1990 Gun-Free School Zones Act where it was ruled illegal for any person in a school to be in possession of a gun. In this case, the Commerce Clause with regards to Congress was overridden. Putting this into consideration, together with the evidence provided to connect violence against women with interstate commerce, the court found it very clear that violence against women is not in any way an activity that is economical.


To determine whether the United States Code 13981 was covered by the Commerce Clause of Congress, it was determined by the court that Lopez would be used. The court says that with regards to Lopez, the conduct that was under discussion was found not to be economical and this was vital in deciding the unconstitutionality of the statute. The court adds that an activity has to significantly have an effect on interstate commerce for the statute to be used. Additionally, it is noted by the court that in Lopez, the Congress did not present clear-cut findings which could connect interstate commerce and the statute. Lastly, it was also pointed out by the court that the interstate commerce and gun possession connection was not very clear. The court felt that if this reasoning was used in the Violence Against Women Act, there is no way Congress could be stopped from controlling anything. From the look of things, interstate commerce and violence against women findings were not really factored.

Making the distinction between activities that are not economic and those that are economical is a tough decision to make, Breyer says. In addition to this, he is of the opinion that the discussion between non-economic and economic activities should not be directed to the causes they have but rather on their effects.

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For dissenting opinion, they argued that the overwhelming evidence collected by Congress to show that there indeed is a relationship between interstate commerce and the violence against women makes this case very different from that of Lopez.


In light of the Commerce Clause, was it constitutionally correct for the Congress to have United States Code 13981 enacted? No

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