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U.S. v. Parker

March 7, 1997

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,

APPELLANT

v.

STEVEN PAUL PARKER



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Crim. No. 95-cr-00352)

Before: STAPLETON and MANSMANN, Circuit Judges and RESTANI, Judge. *fn1

MANSMANN, Circuit Judge.

Argued: February 6, 1997

Filed March 7, 1997

OPINION OF THE COURT

This appeal from the dismissal of a criminal information for failure to pay past-due child support presents a question of first impression for us. We must determine whether enactment of the Child Support Recovery Act of 1992, 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 228 (1995) ("The Act") was within the power granted to Congress under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution. Because we are convinced that the Act was the product of a lawful exercise of congressional power under the Commerce Clause and does not transgress the Tenth Amendment, we find that the district court erred in holding the Act unconstitutional. We will, therefore, reverse the order of the district court.

I.

On June 27, 1995, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania filed a criminal information alleging that Steven Paul Parker, a Florida resident, willfully failed to pay a past-due child support obligation to his two children in Pennsylvania in violation of the Child Support Recovery Act of 1992, 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 228. *fn2

On September 14, 1995, Parker moved to dismiss the information, alleging that the Act is constitutionally infirm in that it: (1) falls outside the limits of the power granted to Congress under the terms of the Commerce Clause; and (2) impermissibly interferes with the states' ability to regulate child support and criminal law, thereby undermining the doctrine of federalism and violating the Tenth Amendment. In an opinion and order entered on October 30, 1995, the district court agreed with Parker's arguments and dismissed the information. This timely appeal followed.

We have jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 3731. Our review of the district court's determination that the Act is unconstitutional is plenary. United States v. Rybar, 103 F.3d 273 (3d Cir. 1996).

II.

Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution of the United States provides that "The Congress shall have power . . . [t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes. . . ." The scope of congressional power under this section has, until recently, been interpreted to be virtually limitless. The Commerce Clause landscape changed, however, with the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Lopez, ___ U.S. ___, 115 S. Ct. 1624 (1995). There, the Court for the first time in nearly sixty years invalidated a statute as beyond the scope of the Commerce Clause. This apparent change in course has resulted in reexamination of the Commerce Clause in a variety of contexts, as litigants attempt to persuade the courts that Lopez has breathed new life into statutory challenges that would, in other times, have been rejected summarily.

In Lopez, the Court considered the constitutionality of the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990. This Act made it a federal offense "for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone." 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 922(q)(1)(A). Evaluating the constitutionality of the statute, the Court established that there are "three broad categories of activity that Congress may regulate under its commerce power." 115 S. Ct. at 1629. Congress is authorized to "regulate the use of the channels of interstate commerce", "regulate and protect the instrumentalities of interstate commerce," and "regulate . . . those activities that substantially affect interstate commerce." Id.

Because the Gun Free School Zone Act did not involve "channels" or "instrumentalities" of interstate commerce, the Court focused exclusively upon whether the regulated activity substantially affected interstate commerce. The Court concluded that it did not, writing that the statute "by its terms has nothing to do with `commerce' or any sort of economic enterprise, however broadly one might define those terms." Id. at 1630. The Court also found it significant that the statute did not contain a jurisdictional element establishing a connection to interstate commerce and that "[neither] the statute nor its ...


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