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United States v. Morrison (99-5)

General Material

On May 15, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision on "United States v. Morrison (99-5)" and with a 5-4 vote struck down Civil Rights Remedy (42 U.S.C. ¤13981) of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA; Pub. L. No. 103-322, ¤ 108 Stat. 1902 (1994)). This Civil Rights Remedy law had provided survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault the right to sue their assailants in civil federal court. The Civil Rights Remedy, and other parts of VAWA 1994, was passed to respond to U.S. Congressional findings confirming the pervasiveness of violence against women in the U.S. and acknowledging that at the state level, crimes against women were being responded to less seriously than other crimes.

In this case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court January 11, 2000, the Clinton Administration joined Brzonkala (a Virginia Tech student who sued the two male students she said raped her) to argue that U.S. Congress had the power to pass VAWA's Civil Rights Remedy because Congressional findings clearly show that violence against women effects interstate commerce, and the Congress has the right to regulate interstate commerce. However, in "United States v. Morrison", the U.S. Supreme Court determined that "gender-motivated" crimes are not included in the types of economic activity that are regulated by the U.S. Congress and in effect rejected the US congressional findings.

"United States v. Morrison (99-5)" decision continues a U.S" Supreme Court trend of placing limits on the U.S. Congress's ability to make laws that may be interpreted to intervene in traditional states' roles. Cases that led to this U.S. Supreme Court decision include: "Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic Institute, No. 96-1814 (4th Cir. 1999)" decided in the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 5, 1999, and "Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic, et al," in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Virginia on July 26, 1996.