Printz v. United States Case Brief

Facts of the case

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Bill) required local chief law enforcement officers(CLEOs) to perform background-checks on prospective handgun purchasers, until such time as the Attorney General establishes a federal system for this purpose. County sheriffs Jay Printz and Richard Mack, separately challenged the constitutionality of this interim provision of the Brady Bill on behalf of CLEOs in Montana and Arizona respectively. In both cases District Courts found the background-checks unconstitutional, but ruled that since this requirement was severable from the rest of the Brady Bill a voluntary background-check system could remain. On appeal from the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that the interim background-check provisions were constitutional, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and consolidated the two cases deciding this one along with Mack v. United States.

Why is the case important?

The federal Brady Act interim provisions required state and local law enforcement officials to temporarily do background checks. Two local law enforcement officials challenged the constitutionality of the interim provisions.


Whether the mandatory obligation imposed on the States by the interim provisions of the Act, commanding state and local officers to perform background checks on prospective handgun buyers and to perform certain other related tasks, violates the Constitution?


No. Judgment reversed.
In New York v. United States, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) held the federal government could not compel the states to enact or administer a federal regulatory program. Thus, the background check provisions of the Act violated this prohibition.
Even if there is no policy-making involved, Congress cannot take away a state’s sovereignty. Federalism mandates states remain independent from the federal government.


The Supreme Court held that the interim provisions violated constitutional principles of dual sovereignty and separation of powers. Congress cannot compel states to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Congress cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the state’s officers directly. The Brady Act effectively transferred the executive branch’s responsibility to administer federal laws to thousands of CLEOs in 50 states, who were left to implement the program without meaningful presidential control.

  • Advocates: Stephen P. Halbrook Argued the cause for the petitioners David Dellinger Argued the cause for the United States Walter E. Dellinger, III on behalf of the Respondent for respondent
  • Petitioner: Printz
  • Respondent: United States
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: Sheriff Printz’s Office
Citation: 521 US 898 (1997)
Argued: Dec 3, 1996
Decided: Jun 27, 1997
Printz v. United States Case Brief