Printz v. United States

521 U.S. 898 (1997)


Facts: A provision of the Brady Act required chief law enforcement officers of state and local governments to perform handgun buyer background checks on an interim basis until the national background check system was developed.Two sheriffs sue to stop the provision from being enforced in separate district courts.The two district courts both found that the provision in question was unconstitutional but could be severed from the rest of the Act.The Ninth Circuit reversed, saying that none of the Actís provisions were unconstitutional.The sheriffs appealed.


Issue: Are the interim provision of the Brady Act unconstitutional on Tenth Amendment or other grounds?


Rule: Congress cannot constitutionally compel state executive branch officials to administer a federal regulatory program.


Analysis: Scalia says that the Courtís past decisions show that though Congress can command state judges, it cannot command the statesí executive authorities.Scalia based his decision at least in part on New York and suggests the provisions are unconstitutional based on the Tenth Amendment.However, Scalia never mentions the Tenth Amendment explicitly except when responding to the dissent.


OíConnor brings up the Tenth Amendment explicitly.OíConnor points out that it is possible to for localities to voluntarily continue participating in the interim background check plan if they choose to do so.


Stevens distinguishes New York.He asks what the practical effects might be in an emergency if Congress could not conscript local officials into service.Stevens also looks at legislative history.


Stevens takes a different view of the Tenth Amendment.Stevens says that the federal government can impose duties on ordinary citizens, so, he reasons, why canít say impose even greater duties on state officers?Stevens reaffirms the view that both the Constitution and federal statutes are the Supreme Law of the Land.


Breyer takes a comparative approach, saying that the way we do things isnít the only possible way for things to work.


Conclusion: The Ninth Circuit is reversed and the provision in question is found unconstitutional.


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