History and GovernmentSupreme CourtCases

Reno v. Condon (2000)


Case Summary

The Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA) prohibited States from disclosing or selling a driver's personal information without the driver's consent. Data sold by the States had often fallen into the wrong hands and, in at least one case, had resulted in the murder of a woman who was being stalked. South Carolina, led by Attorney General Condon, sued to block enforcement of the act. The District Court and Court of Appeals ruled for the State, and United States Attorney General Janet Reno asked the Supreme Court to reverse this decision. The issue at the heart of the case was the safety of individuals and, in turn, their right to privacy.

The Court's Decision

The Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the authority to enact the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), because the act regulates the States as owners of motor vehicle databases that are used in interstate commerce. The Constitution, in Article I, gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. He reasoned that the personal identification information that the DPPA regulates is considered an item in interstate commerce. The States sell the information to companies which are themselves engaged in interstate commerce. “Because drivers' information is, in this context, an article of commerce, its sale or release into the interstate stream of business is sufficient to support congressional regulation.” Rehnquist also refuted South Carolina's argument that the DPPA violates the Tenth Amendment, which grants all powers to the States that the Constitution does not specifically associate with the Federal Government. “The DPPA regulates the States as the owners of databases. It does not require the South Carolina Legislature to enact any laws or regulations, and it does not require State officials to assist in the enforcement of federal statutes regulating private individuals.”

More on the Case

In the 1990s, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote a series of majority opinions regarding the powers reserved to the States. He authored United States v. Lopez, 1995, where the Supreme Court ruled that Congress exceeded its authority when it adopted the Gun-Free School Zones Act, which made it a crime to possess a firearm in a school zone. The Chief Justice concluded that possession of a firearm did not have an economic basis that would bring it within the scope of the Interstate Commerce Clause.

In United States v. Morrison, 2000, the Supreme Court invalidated the federal Violence Against Women Act. The act gave women the right to bring suit in federal court in cases of gender-related violence. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote that “gender-motivated crimes of violence are not, in any sense, economic activity.” Although violent crimes against women may ultimately have an effect on national employment and on the economy, that does not provide sufficient grounds for the federal government to regulate it under the Commerce Clause. “The Constitution requires a distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local.…Indeed, we can think of no better example of the police power, which the Founders denied the National Government and reposed in the States, than the suppression of violent crime and vindication of its victims.”

Source: ©2005 Pearson Education, Inc., publishing as Pearson Prentice Hall. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Information Please®, ©2005 Pearson Education, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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