United States v. Morrison
529 U.S. 598 (2000)

  • Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, (VAWA), which contained a provision (42 U.S.C. §13981) that allowed victims of gender-based violence to sue in Federal court for damages, even when no criminal charges were filed.
    • VAWA allowed victims to sue their attackers in Federal court because of statistical evidence that States didn’t prosecute crimes against women as often as crimes against men.
  • Brzonkala was allegedly assaulted and repeatedly raped by Morrison and Crawford. A State Grand Jury did not find sufficient evidence, in its opinion, to charge either man with a crime.
  • Brzonkala then sued Crawford and Morrison under VAWA.
  • The Trial Court dismissed the case. Brzonkala appealed.
    • The Trial Court found VAWA to be unconstitutional because Congress lacked authority to enact it.
  • The Federal Appellate Court reversed. Crawford and Morrison appealed.
  • Federal Appellate Court en banc reheard the case, reversed the panel, upholding the Trial Court. Brzonkala appealed
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that Congress lacked authority, under either the Interstate Commerce Clause or the 14th Amendment, to enact the law.
    • The Court found that Congress did not have the power to enact VAWA under the 14th Amendment
      • The Court applied the State Action Doctrine (see United States v. Stanley (109 U.S. 3 (1883)), which allowed segregation by striking down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, a Statute that prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations.
        • In Stanley, the Supreme Court found that the Equal Protection Clause applied only to acts done by States, not to those done by private individuals; because the Civil Rights Act of 1875 applied to private establishments, the Court said, it exceeded congressional power under the 14th Amendment.
      • In this case, the Court found that VAWA’s civil remedy for gender-motivated violence, because it was aimed at not State action but at private violence, was unconstitutional.
    • The Court found that Congress did not have the power to enact VAWA under the Interstate Commerce Clause, because criminal violence has nothing to do with interstate commerce.
      • See United States v. Lopez (514 U.S. 549 (1995)).