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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
UNITED STATES, PETITIONER v. ALFONSO LOPEZ, Jr.
on Writ of Certiorari
to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
[April 26, 1995]
Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.
In the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, Congress made it a federal offense
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.
18 U. S. C. 922(q)(1)(A) (1988 ed., Supp. V). The Act neither regulates a
commercial activity nor contains a requirement that the possession be connected
in any way to interstate commerce. We hold that the Act exceeds the authority of
Congress [t]o regulate Commerce . . . among the several States . . . .
U. S. Const., Art. I, 8, cl. 3.
On March 10, 1992, respondent, who was then a 12th-grade student, arrived at
Edison High School in San Antonio, Texas, carrying a concealed .38 caliber
handgun and five bullets. Acting upon an anonymous tip, school authorities
confronted respondent, who admitted that he was carrying the weapon. He was
arrested and charged under Texas law with firearm possession on school premises.
See Tex. Penal Code Ann. 46.03(a)(1) (Supp. 1994). The next day, the state
charges were dismissed after federal agents charged respondent by complaint with
violating the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. 18 U. S. C. 922(q)(1)(A) (1988
ed., Supp. V).
A federal grand jury indicted respondent on one count of knowing possession
of a firearm at a school zone, in violation of 922(q). Respondent moved to
dismiss his federal indictment on the ground that 922(q) is
unconstitutional as it is beyond the power of Congress to legislate control over
our public schools. The District Court denied the motion, concluding that
922(q) is a constitutional exercise of Congress' well-defined power to
regulate activities in and affecting commerce, and the `business' of elementary,
middle and high schools . . . affects interstate commerce. App. to Pet.
for Cert. 55a. Respondent waived his right to a jury trial. The District Court
conducted a bench trial, found him guilty of violating 922(q), and sentenced him
to six months' imprisonment and two years' supervised release.
On appeal, respondent challenged his conviction based on his claim that
922(q) exceeded Congress' power to legislate under the Commerce Clause. The
Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed and reversed respondent's
conviction. It held that, in light of what it characterized as insufficient
congressional findings and legislative history, section 922(q), in the
full reach of its terms, is invalid as beyond the power of Congress under the
Commerce Clause. 2 F. 3d 1342, 1367-1368 (1993). Because of the
importance of the issue, we granted certiorari, 511 U. S. ___ (1994), and we now
We start with first principles. The Constitution creates a Federal
Government of enumerated powers. See U. S. Const., Art. I, 8. As James Madison
wrote, [t]he powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal
government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State
governments are numerous and indefinite. The Federalist No. 45, pp.
292-293 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961). This constitutionally mandated division of
authority was adopted by the Framers to ensure protection of our
fundamental liberties. Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U. S. 452, 458 (1991)
(internal quotation marks omitted). Just as the separation and
independence of the coordinate branches of the Federal Government serves to
prevent the accumulation of excessive power in any one branch, a healthy balance
of power between the States and the Federal Government will reduce the risk of
tyranny and abuse from either front. Ibid.
The Constitution delegates to Congress the power [t]o regulate
Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian
Tribes. U. S. Const., Art. I, 8, cl. 3. The Court, through Chief Justice
Marshall, first defined the nature of Congress' commerce power in Gibbons v.
Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 189-190 (1824):
Commerce, undoubtedly, is traffic, but it is something
more: it is intercourse. It describes the commercial intercourse between
nations, and parts of nations, in all its branches, and is regulated by
prescribing rules for carrying on that intercourse. The commerce power
is the power to regulate; that is, to prescribe the rule by which
commerce is to be governed. This power, like all others vested in Congress, is
complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no
limitations, other than are prescribed in the constitution. Id., at 196.
The Gibbons Court, however, acknowledged that limitations on the commerce
power are inherent in the very language of the Commerce Clause.
It is not intended to say that these words comprehend
that commerce, which is completely internal, which is carried on between man and
man in a State, or between different parts of the same State, and which does not
extend to or affect other States. Such a power would be inconvenient, and is
Comprehensive as the word `among' is, it may very properly be
restricted to that commerce which concerns more States than one. . . . The
enumeration presupposes something not enumerated; and that something, if we
regard the language or the subject of the sentence, must be the exclusively
internal commerce of a State. Id., at 194-195.
For nearly a century thereafter, the Court's Commerce Clause decisions dealt
but rarely with the extent of Congress' power, and almost entirely with the
Commerce Clause as a limit on state legislation that discriminated against
interstate commerce. See, e.g., Veazie v. Moor, 14 How. 568, 573-575 (1853)
(upholding a state-created steamboat monopoly because it involved regulation of
wholly internal commerce); Kidd v. Pearson, 128 U. S. 1, 17, 20-22 (1888)
(upholding a state prohibition on the manufacture of intoxicating liquor because
the commerce power does not comprehend the purely domestic commerce of a
State which is carried on between man and man within a State or between
different parts of the same State); see also L. Tribe, American
Constitutional Law 306 (2d ed. 1988). Under this line of precedent, the Court
held that certain categories of activity such as production,
manufacturing, and mining were within the province
of state governments, and thus were beyond the power of Congress under the
Commerce Clause. See Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U. S. 111, 121 (1942) (describing
development of Commerce Clause jurisprudence).
In 1887, Congress enacted the Interstate Commerce Act, 24 Stat. 379, and in
1890, Congress enacted the Sherman Antitrust Act, 26 Stat. 209, as amended, 15
U. S. C. 1 et seq. These laws ushered in a new era of federal regulation under
the commerce power. When cases involving these laws first reached this Court, we
imported from our negative Commerce Clause cases the approach that Congress
could not regulate activities such as production, manufacturing,
and mining. See, e.g., United States v. E. C. Knight Co., 156 U.
S. 1, 12 (1895) (Commerce succeeds to manufacture, and is not part of it);
Carter v. Carter Coal Co., 298 U. S. 238, 304 (1936) (Mining brings the
subject matter of commerce into existence. Commerce disposes of it).
Simultaneously, however, the Court held that, where the interstate and
intrastate aspects of commerce were so mingled together that full regulation of
interstate commerce required incidental regulation of intrastate commerce, the
Commerce Clause authorized such regulation. See, e.g., Houston, E. & W. T.
R. Co. v. United States, 234 U. S. 342 (1914) (Shreveport Rate Cases).
In A. L. A. Schecter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U. S. 495, 550
(1935), the Court struck down regulations that fixed the hours and wages of
individuals employed by an intrastate business because the activity being
regulated related to interstate commerce only indirectly. In doing so, the Court
characterized the distinction between direct and indirect effects of intrastate
transactions upon interstate commerce as a fundamental one, essential to
the maintenance of our constitutional system. Id., at 548. Activities
that affected interstate commerce directly were within Congress' power;
activities that affected interstate commerce indirectly were beyond Congress'
reach. Id., at 546. The justification for this formal distinction was rooted in
the fear that otherwise there would be virtually no limit to the federal
power and for all practical purposes we should have a completely centralized
government. Id., at 548.
Two years later, in the watershed case of NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel
Corp., 301 U. S. 1 (1937), the Court upheld the National Labor Relations Act
against a Commerce Clause challenge, and in the process, departed from the
distinction between direct and indirect effects on
interstate commerce. Id., at 36-38 (The question [of the scope of
Congress' power] is necessarily one of degree). The Court held that
intrastate activities that have such a close and substantial relation to
interstate commerce that their control is essential or appropriate to protect
that commerce from burdens and obstructions are within Congress' power to
regulate. Id., at 37.
In United States v. Darby, 312 U. S. 100 (1941), the Court upheld the Fair
Labor Standards Act, stating: The power of Congress over interstate
commerce is not confined to the regulation of commerce among the states. It
extends to those activities intrastate which so affect interstate commerce or
the exercise of the power of Congress over it as to make regulation of them
appropriate means to the attainment of a legitimate end, the exercise of the
granted power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. Id., at 118.
See also United States v. Wrightwood Dairy Co., 315 U. S. 110, 119 (1942)
(the commerce power extends to those intrastate activities which in a
substantial way interfere with or obstruct the exercise of the granted power).
In Wickard v. Filburn, the Court upheld the application of amendments to the
Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 to the production and consumption of
homegrown wheat. 317 U. S., at 128-129. The Wickard Court explicitly rejected
earlier distinctions between direct and indirect effects on interstate commerce,
[E]ven if appellee's activity be local and though it may
not be regarded as commerce, it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by
Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce, and
this irrespective of whether such effect is what might at some earlier time have
been defined as `direct' or `indirect.' Id., at 125.
The Wickard Court emphasized that although Filburn's own contribution to the
demand for wheat may have been trivial by itself, that was not enough to
remove him from the scope of federal regulation where, as here, his
contribution, taken together with that of many others similarly situated, is far
from trivial. Id., at 127-128.
Jones & Laughlin Steel, Darby, and Wickard ushered in an era of Commerce
Clause jurisprudence that greatly expanded the previously defined authority of
Congress under that Clause. In part, this was a recognition of the great changes
that had occurred in the way business was carried on in this country.
Enterprises that had once been local or at most regional in nature had become
national in scope. But the doctrinal change also reflected a view that earlier
Commerce Clause cases artificially had constrained the authority of Congress to
regulate interstate commerce.
But even these modern-era precedents which have expanded congressional power
under the Commerce Clause confirm that this power is subject to outer limits. In
Jones & Laughlin Steel, the Court warned that the scope of the interstate
commerce power must be considered in the light of our dual system of
government and may not be extended so as to embrace effects upon interstate
commerce so indirect and remote that to embrace them, in view of our complex
society, would effectually obliterate the distinction between what is national
and what is local and create a completely centralized government. 301 U.
S., at 37; see also Darby, supra, at 119-120 (Congress may regulate intrastate
activity that has a substantial effect on interstate commerce);
Wickard, supra, at 125 (Congress may regulate activity that exerts a
substantial economic effect on interstate commerce). Since that time, the
Court has heeded that warning and undertaken to decide whether a rational basis
existed for concluding that a regulated activity sufficiently affected
interstate commerce. See, e.g., Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining &
Reclamation Assn., Inc., 452 U. S. 264, 276-280 (1981); Perez v. United States,
402 U. S. 146, 155-156 (1971); Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U. S. 294, 299-301
(1964); Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U. S. 241, 252-253
Similarly, in Maryland v. Wirtz, 392 U. S. 183 (1968), the Court reaffirmed
that the power to regulate commerce, though broad indeed, has limits
that [t]he Court has ample power to enforce. Id., at 196,
overruled on other grounds, National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U. S. 833
(1976), overruled by Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, 469
U. S. 528 (1985). In response to the dissent's warnings that the Court was
powerless to enforce the limitations on Congress' commerce powers because
[a]ll activities affecting commerce, even in the minutest degree,
[Wickard], may be regulated and controlled by Congress, 392 U. S., at 204
(Douglas, J., dissenting), the Wirtz Court replied that the dissent had misread
precedent as [n]either here nor in Wickard has the Court declared that
Congress may use a relatively trivial impact on commerce as an excuse for broad
general regulation of state or private activities, id., at 197, n. 27.
Rather, [t]he Court has said only that where a general regulatory statute
bears a substantial relation to commerce, the de minimis character of individual
instances arising under that statute is of no consequence. Ibid. (first
Consistent with this structure, we have identified three broad categories of
activity that Congress may regulate under its commerce power. Perez v. United
States, supra, at 150; see also Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining &
Reclamation Assn., supra, at 276-277. First, Congress may regulate the use of
the channels of interstate commerce. See, e.g., Darby, 312 U. S., at 114; Heart
of Atlanta Motel, supra, at 256 (`[T]he authority of Congress to keep the
channels of interstate commerce free from immoral and injurious uses has been
frequently sustained, and is no longer open to question.' (quoting
Caminetti v. United States, 242 U. S. 470, 491 (1917)). Second, Congress is
empowered to regulate and protect the instrumentalities of interstate commerce,
or persons or things in interstate commerce, even though the threat may come
only from intrastate activities. See, e.g., Shreveport Rate Cases, 234 U. S. 342
(1914); Southern R. Co. v. United States, 222 U. S. 20 (1911) (upholding
amendments to Safety Appliance Act as applied to vehicles used in intrastate
commerce); Perez, supra, at 150 ([F]or example, the destruction of an
aircraft (18 U. S. C. 32), or . . . thefts from interstate shipments (18 U. S.
C. 659)). Finally, Congress' commerce authority includes the power to
regulate those activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce,
Jones & Laughlin Steel, 301 U. S., at 37, i.e., those activities that
substantially affect interstate commerce. Wirtz, supra, at 196, n. 27.
Within this final category, admittedly, our case law has not been clear
whether an activity must affect or substantially affect
interstate commerce in order to be within Congress' power to regulate it under
the Commerce Clause. Compare Preseault v. ICC, 494 U. S. 1, 17 (1990), with
Wirtz, supra, at 196, n. 27 (the Court has never declared that Congress
may use a relatively trivial impact on commerce as an excuse for broad general
regulation of state or private activities). We conclude, consistent with
the great weight of our case law, that the proper test requires an analysis of
whether the regulated activity substantially affects interstate
We now turn to consider the power of Congress, in the light of this
framework, to enact 922(q). The first two categories of authority may be quickly
disposed of: 922(q) is not a regulation of the use of the channels of interstate
commerce, nor is it an attempt to prohibit the interstate transportation of a
commodity through the channels of commerce; nor can 922(q) be justified as a
regulation by which Congress has sought to protect an instrumentality of
interstate commerce or a thing in interstate commerce. Thus, if 922(q) is to be
sustained, it must be under the third category as a regulation of an activity
that substantially affects interstate commerce.
First, we have upheld a wide variety of congressional Acts regulating
intrastate economic activity where we have concluded that the activity
substantially affected interstate commerce. Examples include the regulation of
intrastate coal mining; Hodel, supra, intrastate extortionate credit
transactions, Perez, supra, restaurants utilizing substantial interstate
supplies, McClung, supra, inns and hotels catering to interstate guests, Heart
of Atlanta Motel, supra, and production and consumption of home-grown wheat,
Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U. S. 111 (1942). These examples are by no means
exhaustive, but the pattern is clear. Where economic activity substantially
affects interstate commerce, legislation regulating that activity will be
Even Wickard, which is perhaps the most far reaching example of Commerce
Clause authority over intrastate activity, involved economic activity in a way
that the possession of a gun in a school zone does not. Roscoe Filburn operated
a small farm in Ohio, on which, in the year involved, he raised 23 acres of
wheat. It was his practice to sow winter wheat in the fall, and after harvesting
it in July to sell a portion of the crop, to feed part of it to poultry and
livestock on the farm, to use some in making flour for home consumption, and to
keep the remainder for seeding future crops. The Secretary of Agriculture
assessed a penalty against him under the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938
because he harvested about 12 acres more wheat than his allotment under the Act
permitted. The Act was designed to regulate the volume of wheat moving in
interstate and foreign commerce in order to avoid surpluses and shortages, and
concomitant fluctuation in wheat prices, which had previously obtained. The
Court said, in an opinion sustaining the application of the Act to Filburn's
One of the primary purposes of the Act in question was
to increase the market price of wheat and to that end to limit the volume
thereof that could affect the market. It can hardly be denied that a factor of
such volume and variability as home-consumed wheat would have a substantial
influence on price and market conditions. This may arise because being in
marketable condition such wheat overhangs the market and, if induced by rising
prices, tends to flow into the market and check price increases. But if we
assume that it is never marketed, it supplies a need of the man who grew it
which would otherwise be reflected by purchases in the open market. Home-grown
wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce. 317 U. S., at 128.
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.
Second, 922(q) contains no jurisdictional element which would ensure,
through case-by-case inquiry, that the firearm possession in question affects
interstate commerce. For example, in United States v. Bass, 404 U. S. 336
(1971), the Court interpreted former 18 U. S. C. 1202(a), which made it a crime
for a felon to receiv[e], posses[s], or transpor[t] in commerce or
affecting commerce . . . any firearm. 404 U. S., at 337. The Court
interpreted the possession component of 1202(a) to require an additional nexus
to interstate commerce both because the statute was ambiguous and because
unless Congress conveys its purpose clearly, it will not be deemed to
have significantly changed the federal-state balance. Id., at 349. The
Bass Court set aside the conviction because although the Government had
demonstrated that Bass had possessed a firearm, it had failed to show the
requisite nexus with interstate commerce. Id., at 347. The Court thus
interpreted the statute to reserve the constitutional question whether Congress
could regulate, without more, the mere possession of firearms. See
id., at 339, n. 4; see also United States v. Five Gambling Devices, 346 U. S.
441, 448 (1953) (plurality opinion) (The principle is old and deeply
imbedded in our jurisprudence that this Court will construe a statute in a
manner that requires decision of serious constitutional questions only if the
statutory language leaves no reasonable alternative). Unlike the statute
in Bass, 922(q) has no express jurisdictional element which might limit its
reach to a discrete set of firearm possessions that additionally have an
explicit connection with or effect on interstate commerce.
Although as part of our independent evaluation of constitutionality under
the Commerce Clause we of course consider legislative findings, and indeed even
congressional committee findings, regarding effect on interstate commerce, see,
e.g., Preseault v. ICC, 494 U. S. 1, 17 (1990), the Government concedes that
[n]either the statute nor its legislative history contain[s] express
congressional findings regarding the effects upon interstate commerce of gun
possession in a school zone. Brief for United States 5-6. We agree with
the Government that Congress normally is not required to make formal findings as
to the substantial burdens that an activity has on interstate commerce. See
McClung, 379 U. S., at 304; see also Perez, 402 U. S., at 156 (Congress
need [not] make particularized findings in order to legislate). But to
the extent that congressional findings would enable us to evaluate the
legislative judgment that the activity in question substantially affected
interstate commerce, even though no such substantial effect was visible to the
naked eye, they are lacking here.
The Government argues that Congress has accumulated institutional expertise
regarding the regulation of firearms through previous enactments. Cf. Fullilove
v. Klutznick, 448 U. S. 448, 503 (1980) (Powell, J., concurring). We agree,
however, with the Fifth Circuit that importation of previous findings to justify
922(q) is especially inappropriate here because the prior federal
enactments or Congressional findings [do not] speak to the subject matter of
section 922(q) or its relationship to interstate commerce. Indeed, section
922(q) plows thoroughly new ground and represents a sharp break with the
long-standing pattern of federal firearms legislation. 2 F. 3d, at 1366.
The Government's essential contention, in fine, is that we may determine
here that 922(q) is valid because possession of a firearm in a local school zone
does indeed substantially affect interstate commerce. Brief for United States
17. The Government argues that possession of a firearm in a school zone may
result in violent crime and that violent crime can be expected to affect the
functioning of the national economy in two ways. First, the costs of violent
crime are substantial, and, through the mechanism of insurance, those costs are
spread throughout the population. See United States v. Evans, 928 F. 2d 858, 862
(CA9 1991). Second, violent crime reduces the willingness of individuals to
travel to areas within the country that are perceived to be unsafe. Cf. Heart of
Atlanta Motel, 379 U. S., at 253. The Government also argues that the presence
of guns in schools poses a substantial threat to the educational process by
threatening the learning environment. A handicapped educational process, in
turn, will result in a less productive citizenry. That, in turn, would have an
adverse effect on the Nation's economic well-being. As a result, the Government
argues that Congress could rationally have concluded that 922(q) substantially
affects interstate commerce.
We pause to consider the implications of the Government's arguments. The
Government admits, under its costs of crime reasoning, that
Congress could regulate not only all violent crime, but all activities that
might lead to violent crime, regardless of how tenuously they relate to
interstate commerce. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 8-9. Similarly, under the Government's
national productivity reasoning, Congress could regulate any
activity that it found was related to the economic productivity of individual
citizens: family law (including marriage, divorce, and child custody), for
example. Under the theories that the Government presents in support of 922(q),
it is difficult to perceive any limitation on federal power, even in areas such
as criminal law enforcement or education where States historically have been
sovereign. Thus, if we were to accept the Government's arguments, we are
hard-pressed to posit any activity by an individual that Congress is without
power to regulate.
Although Justice Breyer argues that acceptance of the Government's
rationales would not authorize a general federal police power, he is unable to
identify any activity that the States may regulate but Congress may not. Justice
Breyer posits that there might be some limitations on Congress' commerce power
such as family law or certain aspects of education. Post, at 10-11. These
suggested limitations, when viewed in light of the dissent's expansive analysis,
are devoid of substance.
Justice Breyer focuses, for the most part, on the threat that firearm
possession in and near schools poses to the educational process and the
potential economic consequences flowing from that threat. Post, at 5-9.
Specifically, the dissent reasons that (1) gun-related violence is a serious
problem; (2) that problem, in turn, has an adverse effect on classroom learning;
and (3) that adverse effect on classroom learning, in turn, represents a
substantial threat to trade and commerce. Post, at 9. This analysis would be
equally applicable, if not more so, to subjects such as family law and direct
regulation of education.
For instance, if Congress can, pursuant to its Commerce Clause power,
regulate activities that adversely affect the learning environment, then, a
fortiori, it also can regulate the educational process directly. Congress could
determine that a school's curriculum has a significant effect on
the extent of classroom learning. As a result, Congress could mandate a federal
curriculum for local elementary and secondary schools because what is taught in
local schools has a significant effect on classroom learning, cf.
post, at 9, and that, in turn, has a substantial effect on interstate commerce.
Justice Breyer rejects our reading of precedent and argues that Congress
. . . could rationally conclude that schools fall on the commercial side of the
line. Post, at 16. Again, Justice Breyer's rationale lacks any real
limits because, depending on the level of generality, any activity can be looked
upon as commercial. Under the dissent's rationale, Congress could just as easily
look at child rearing as fall[ing] on the commercial side of the line
because it provides a valuable service - namely, to equip [children] with
the skills they need to survive in life and, more specifically, in the
workplace. Ibid. We do not doubt that Congress has authority under the
Commerce Clause to regulate numerous commercial activities that substantially
affect interstate commerce and also affect the educational process. That
authority, though broad, does not include the authority to regulate each and
every aspect of local schools.
Admittedly, a determination whether an intrastate activity is commercial or
noncommercial may in some cases result in legal uncertainty. But, so long as
Congress' authority is limited to those powers enumerated in the Constitution,
and so long as those enumerated powers are interpreted as having judicially
enforceable outer limits, congressional legislation under the Commerce Clause
always will engender legal uncertainty. Post, at 17. As Chief
Justice Marshall stated in McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316 (1819):
The [federal] government is acknowledged by all to be
one of enumerated powers. The principle, that it can exercise only the powers
granted to it . . . is now universally admitted. But the question respecting the
extent of the powers actually granted, is perpetually arising, and will probably
continue to arise, as long as our system shall exist. Id., at 405.
See also Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat., at 195 (The enumeration
presupposes something not enumerated). The Constitution mandates this
uncertainty by withholding from Congress a plenary police power that would
authorize enactment of every type of legislation. See U. S. Const., Art. I, 8.
Congress has operated within this framework of legal uncertainty ever since this
Court determined that it was the judiciary's duty to say what the law is.
Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch. 137, 177 (1803) (Marshall, C. J.). Any possible
benefit from eliminating this legal uncertainty would be at the
expense of the Constitution's system of enumerated powers.
In Jones & Laughlin Steel, 301 U. S., at 37, we held that the question
of congressional power under the Commerce Clause is necessarily one of
degree. To the same effect is the concurring opinion of Justice Cardozo
in Schecter Poultry:
There is a view of causation that would obliterate the
distinction of what is national and what is local in the activities of commerce.
Motion at the outer rim is communicated perceptibly, though minutely, to
recording instruments at the center. A society such as ours `is an elastic
medium which transmits all tremors throughout its territory; the only question
is of their size.' 295 U. S., at 554 (quoting United States v. A.L.A.
Schecter Poultry Corp, 76 F. 2d 617, 624 (CA2 1935) (L. Hand, J., concurring)).
These are not precise formulations, and in the nature of things they cannot
be. But we think they point the way to a correct decision of this case. The
possession of a gun in a local school zone is in no sense an economic activity
that might, through repetition elsewhere, substantially affect any sort of
interstate commerce. Respondent was a local student at a local school; there is
no indication that he had recently moved in interstate commerce, and there is no
requirement that his possession of the firearm have any concrete tie to
To uphold the Government's contentions here, we would 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. Admittedly, some of our prior cases have taken long
steps down that road, giving great deference to congressional action. See supra,
at 8. The broad language in these opinions has suggested the possibility of
additional expansion, but we decline here to proceed any further. To do so would
require us to conclude that the Constitution's enumeration of powers does not
presuppose something not enumerated, cf. Gibbons v. Ogden, supra, at 195, and
that there never will be a distinction between what is truly national and what
is truly local, cf. Jones & Laughlin Steel, supra, at 30. This we are
unwilling to do.
For the foregoing reasons the judgment of the Court of Appeals is
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