Gonzales v. Raich: Supreme Court rules on Commerce Clause
The Supreme Court ruled today in Gonzales v. Raich, against taking a somewhat narrower (and to my mind, entirely proper) view of the Commerce Clause. The vote was 6-3, holding that it was permissible for federal drug regulations to override California's state law allowing medicinal marihuana, even as applied to patients who grew and consumed their own pot.
The majority opinion distinquishes Lopez, which struck down the "Gun Free Schoolzones Act," on the basis that Lopez involved a law which did not regulate commerce (there's little economic about possessing a firearm within 1000 ft. of a school), whereas the federal drug laws relate to a large and quite profitable drug market. It declines to take the view ably argued by Randy Barnett (a second amendment scholar, BTW) that interstate commerce is not involved when a state law allows a person to grow something for personal use on his own property. That is, it assesses the connection with interstate commerce in terms of the entirity of a market, not in terms of the specific act being questioned. (Prof. Barnett's argument, as I understand it, was that the state law should justify a focus on the specific act allowed by it, distinguishing cases such as Wickard v. Filburn, in which a New Deal Court upheld federal crop regulations as applied to a farmer who ate his own produce or fed it to his livestock, on the theory that while he might not affect interstate commerce alone, the totality of farmers who did this would do so).
Scalia concurs in the result, mostly to criticize the dissent. O'Connor dissents, joined by Thomas and Rehnquist. They agree that the state law justifies a focus only upon conduct that it allows (medicinal growing and use) and "There is simply no evidence that homegrown medicinal marijuana users constitute, in the aggregate, a sizable enough class to have a discernable, let alone substantial, impact on the national illicit drug market–or otherwise to threaten the CSA regime."
Quirk: Thomas and the CJ do not join section III of her dissent, which is only two paras long. The first quotes Federalist 45, saying that Federal power is narrow and State power broad. The second says that, while she would not have voted for the California law, application of the federal law here stifles a choice that a State made in the interests of protecting its citizens' freedom.
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This is actually a pivotal case for the commerce clause and firearms. The case of United States v. Stewart, 348 F.3d 1132 (9th Cir. 2003)(Homemade machine guns do not affect interstate commerce) was contingent upon the outcome of this case. This case also seems to reaffirm that Lopez is still good case law and that Congress’ attempt to reauthorize 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(1)(A) the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 is still null and void. Here are some important quotes:
"At issue in Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, was the validity of the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which was a brief, single-subject statute making it a crime for an individual to possess a gun in a school zone. 104 Stat. 4844—4845, 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(1)(A). The Act did not regulate any economic activity and did not contain any requirement that the possession of a gun have any connection to past interstate activity or a predictable impact on future commercial activity. Distinguishing our earlier cases holding that comprehensive regulatory statutes may be validly applied to local conduct that does not, when viewed in isolation, have a significant impact on interstate commerce, we held the statute invalid. We explained:
“Section 922(q) is a criminal statute that by its terms has nothing to do with ‘commerce’ or any sort of economic enterprise, however broadly one might define those terms. Section 922(q) is not an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity, in which the regulatory scheme could be undercut unless the intrastate activity were regulated. It cannot, therefore, be sustained under our cases upholding regulations of activities that arise out of or are connected with a commercial transaction, which viewed in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce.” 514 U.S., at 561."
Justice Scalia in Concurring Opinion:
" Lopez and Morrison affirm that Congress may not regulate certain “purely local” activity within the States based solely on the attenuated effect that such activity may have in the interstate market. But those decisions do not declare noneconomic intrastate activities to be categorically beyond the reach of the Federal Government. Neither case involved the power of Congress to exert control over intrastate activities in connection with a more comprehensive scheme of regulation; Lopez expressly disclaimed that it was such a case, 514 U.S., at 561, and Morrison did not even discuss the possibility that it was. (The Court of Appeals in Morrison made clear that it was not. See Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic Inst., 169 F.3d 820, 834—835 (CA4 1999) (en banc).) To dismiss this distinction as “superficial and formalistic,” see post, at 6 (O’Connor, J., dissenting), is to misunderstand the nature of the Necessary and Proper Clause, which empowers Congress to enact laws in effectuation of its enumerated powers that are not within its authority to enact in isolation. See McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 421—422 (1819).
And there are other restraints upon the Necessary and Proper Clause authority. As Chief Justice Marshall wrote in McCulloch v. Maryland, even when the end is constitutional and legitimate, the means must be “appropriate” and “plainly adapted” to that end. Id., at 421. Moreover, they may not be otherwise “prohibited” and must be “consistent with the letter and spirit of the constitution.” Ibid. These phrases are not merely hortatory. For example, cases such as Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997), and New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992), affirm that a law is not “ ‘proper for carrying into Execution the Commerce Clause’ ” “[w]hen [it] violates [a constitutional] principle of state sovereignty.” Printz, supra, at 923—924; see also New York, supra, at 166."
Posted by: Rudy DiGiacinto at June 6, 2005 12:45 PM