United States v. Morrison Case Brief

Facts of the case

In 1994, while enrolled at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech), Christy Brzonkala alleged that Antonio Morrison and James Crawford, both students and varsity football players at Virginia Tech, raped her. In 1995, Brzonkala filed a complaint against Morrison and Crawford under Virginia Tech’s Sexual Assault Policy. After a hearing, Morrison was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to immediate suspension for two semesters. Crawford was not punished. A second hearing again found Morrison guilty. After an appeal through the university’s administrative system, Morrison’s punishment was set aside, as it was found to be excessive.Ultimately, Brzonkala dropped out of the university. Brzonkala then sued Morrison, Crawford, and Virginia Tech in Federal District Court, alleging that Morrison’s and Crawford’s attack violated 42 USC section 13981, part of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA), which provides a federal civil remedy for the victims of gender-motivated violence. Morrison and Crawford moved to dismiss Brzonkala’s suit on the ground that section 13981’s civil remedy was unconstitutional. In dismissing the complaint, the District Court found that that Congress lacked authority to enact section 13981 under either the Commerce Clause or the Fourteenth Amendment, which Congress had explicitly identified as the sources of federal authority for it. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Why is the case important?

The Respondent, Morrison (Respondent), was sued under part of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (Act), which penalized crimes of violence motivated by gender. Now Respondent argues this section of the Act is beyond the scope of Congress’ power to regulate commerce.


Is Section: 13981 of the Act a constitutional exercise of Congress’ commerce power?


No. Appeals court ruling affirmed.
Applying the three-prong test from Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995), the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) determined that violence against women does not substantially affect interstate commerce.


The court rejected petitioners’ argument that § 13981 was a regulation of activity that substantially affected interstate commerce. The court affirmed the decision of the lower court and held that gender-motivated crimes of violence were not considered economic activity, and therefore, the Commerce Clause did not vest Congress with the authority to enact a statute regulating such. Moreover, the court affirmed that the civil remedy contained in § 13981 should be struck down as it was outside Congress’s remedial power under U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 5. The civil remedy was not found to be corrective in its character nor adapted to counteract and redress the operation of such prohibited state laws or proceedings of state officers. Instead, the subject statute redressed private discrimination and was outside Congress’ power to enact.

  • Advocates: Michael E. Rosman Argued the cause for the respondents Julie Goldscheid Argued the cause for the petitioner in No. 99-29, Brzonkala v. Morrison Seth P. Waxman Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States in No. 99-5
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Morrison
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
Citation: 529 US 598 (2000)
Argued: Jan 11, 2000
Decided: May 15, 2000
United States v. Morrison Case Brief