United States v. Alfonso Lopez (Gun Free School Zone Act)

Listener Feedback Episode!

In this episode, Paul responds to a request from a listener who requested an analysis of a commerce clause case.  After giving the idea some thought, Paul began researching the curious case of Alfonso Lopez.

Many of the Supreme Court cases which concern the commerce clause are civil in nature, but there have been a few criminal cases, and the federal prosecution of Alfonso Lopez is particularly interesting because it represents it really focuses on how federal legislation has to be grounded to be considered constitutional by the federal courts.

on March 10, 1992, a high school student in San Antonio, Texas brought a firearm to school.  He was caught via anonymous tip to school officials and he quickly admitted that he had the gun in his backpack.  He was initially charged with violating a Texas state statute which prohibited the unlawful carrying of weapons.  But the day after being charged by the state, those charges were dropped and Lopez found himself charged with violating a federal felony, the Gun Free School Zone Act of 1990.

The Act made it a federal crime to bring a firearm to school, and Lopez was facing up to five years in federal prison.  His lawyer, an appointed federal defender, argued all the way up to the Supreme Court that the Act was unconstitutional because it was based in the commerce clause and that guns in schools, which something which everyone opposes, was simply not closely enough rather to interstate commerce that the Act could be justified in setting the prohibition.

Listen as Paul explains how federal laws are created and challenged, how they have to be justified through the constitution, and why it was so surprising when the Supreme Court ruled in Lopez's favor.  This episode also examines the standard for searching a student at a public school and how the Supreme Court decides which cases to hear and decide.

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