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Video transcript

what we're going to do in this video is talk about a relatively recent US Supreme Court case and this is the United States versus Lopez and the decision was made in 1995 and this is significant because many of the cases we have talked about are things that broaden the power of the federal government while the decision in United States versus Lopez which was a split decision it was a five-to-four decision put some limits on federal power and so just to understand what happened in 1990 the US Congress passes the gun-free school zones Act of 1990 and it says it shall be unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows or has reasonable cause to believe is a school zone and in 1992 a high school student in San Antonio Texas Alfonso Lopez carries a concealed firearm into his high school he is arrested and then he is eventually prosecuted under the gun-free school zones Act of 1990 a federal law and he is tried in a federal court his lawyers say hey this is unconstitutional the federal government does not have the right to regulate whether someone carries a gun into a school or not while the federal government says hey yes we can do this because look at the United States Constitution we the federal government have a right to regulate interstate trade and remember what McCulloch versus Maryland told us from the Necessary and Proper Clause anything that is a means to regulate say another enumerated power like interstate the power to regulate interstate trade that is also constitutional for the federal government but then you could imagine Lopez's lawyer said hold on a second that is a very tenuous connection if you're trying to connect the notion of firearms in schools and school safety to interstate commerce well you could connect almost anything to interstate commerce which would mean that between the Necessary and Proper Clause the implied powers and the enumerated powers of regulating interstate commerce well then the federal government could just regulate anything and so it eventually gets appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court and in a split five to four decision the United States Supreme Court decides in favor of Lopez that the gun-free school zones Act of 1990 at least as it was originally written was indeed unconstitutional that it's an overreach of federal power and to appreciate the majority's thinking here's an excerpt of the decision by William Rehnquist who was the chief justice and who was in the majority and he wrote to uphold the government's contentions here the contention that the government is making that it is constitutional to regulate the possession of firearms in a school we have to pile inference upon inference in a manner that would bid fair to convert congressional authority under the Commerce Clause to a general police power of the sort retained by the states so Rehnquist is saying hey look if we say that the regulation of firearms is connected to interstate commerce somehow because it somehow affects the economy between states well then almost anything if you if you layer pile inference upon inference then that would give the right to the federal government to police almost anything a type of police power that's generally retained by the states admittedly some of our prior cases have taken long steps down that road giving great deference to congressional action and you could go all the way back to McCulloch versus Maryland he's saying yeah the Supreme Court has ruled many times in favor of the federal government having a broad understanding of implied powers the broad language in these opinions has suggested the possibility of additional expansion but we decline here to proceed any further so they're drawing the line in this decision on the expansion of congressional power to do so would require us to conclude that the Constitution's enumeration of powers does not presuppose something not enumerated and that there never will be a distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local this we are unwilling to do so he's saying hey look if we took the government side on this there's no end there isn't any thing that the federal government can't do and then there won't be a distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local I'll let you decide but it's a fascinating case and it's really important in this discussion on power between states and the federal government because this was a decision that kind of drew a line and said okay you know we can't let the federal government have an unlimited number of powers based on just being able to tie inference upon inference to something like the Commerce Clause
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