An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

In 1994, Christy Brzonkala was a student at Virginia Tech. She alleged that two members of the varsity football team, Antonio Morrison and James Crawford, raped her. The local prosecutor in Virginia never brought criminal charges against the players. Brzonkala alleged that she was a victim of “gender-motivated violence.” As a result, she relied on VAWA’s federal cause of action to sue the state university, as well as Morrison and Crawford, in federal court.

The Supreme Court held that Congress lacked the power to create VAWA’s federal cause of action. Morrison, like Lopez five years earlier, yielded a 5-4 split. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion. He applied the economic/non-economic distinction: “Gender-motivated crimes of violence are not, in any sense of the phrase, economic activity.”

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