Thursday, November 14, 2013

Printz v. United States case brief

Printz v. United States case brief summary
521 U.S. 898 (1997)

On grant of certiorari, petitioners challenged the judgment of Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that determined that none of the Brady Act's (note following 18 U.S.C.S. § 922) interim provisions were unconstitutional. The lower courts held that the provision that required chief law enforcement officials to perform background checks was unconstitutional.

The Brady Act, note following 18 U.S.C.S. § 922, amended a detailed federal scheme that governed distribution of firearms established by the Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C.S. § 921. Interim provisions directed state law enforcement officers to participate in administration of a federally enacted regulatory scheme. Petitioners, chief law enforcement officials (CLEO) of their respective counties, objected to being pressed into federal service and contended that congressional action that compelled state officers to execute federal laws was unconstitutional.


  • The Supreme Court agreed and held that the interim provisions violated constitutional principles of dual sovereignty and separation of powers. 
  • Congress could not compel states to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. 
  • Congress could not 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.
The Judgment was reversed; the interim provisions were unconstitutional. The provisions violated dual sovereignty because they compelled states to administer a federal regulatory scheme. Additionally, the provisions violated separation of powers because the responsibility for administration of laws enacted by Congress belonged to the President, not chief law enforcement officers in 50 states.

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