Printz v. United States

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Printz v. United States
Court U.S. Supreme Court
Citation 521 U.S. 898 (1997)
Date decided 1997


Congress enacted the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which attempted to force state executive actions.


Whether certain interim provisions of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993), commanding state and local law enforcement officers to conduct background checks on prospective handgun purchasers and to perform certain related tasks, violate the US Constitution.

Whether the federal government can force participation of the States’ executive in the actual administration of a federal program.


The provision is unconstitutional. The Brady Act cannot compels state officers to enforce a federal statute.


Early laws establish that the Constitution was originally understood to permit imposition of an obligation on state judges to enforce federal prescriptions, insofar as those prescriptions related to matters appropriate for the judicial power, but not to impress the state executive into its service.

Using the States as the instruments of federal governance is both ineffectual and provocative of federal-state conflict.

The Constitution explicitly provides that the President shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, not that they may pass responsibility to CLEOs.


Stevens Dissent:

The grant of authority to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers is surely adequate to support the temporary enlistment of local police officers in the process of identifying persons who should not be entrusted with the possession of handguns.