A Texas high school student’s decision to bring a handgun to school in 1992 could end up at the center of the legal fight over President Obama’s health care reform plan, says the Houston Chronicle. Alfonso Lopez Jr.’s arrest in San Antonio set in motion a legal battle that may prove crucial to 13 state attorneys general fighting the new law. Lopez was convicted of violating the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. The Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, threw out his conviction five years later on the grounds that Congress exceeded its authority under the Constitution when it created a federal violation to possess a firearm in a school zone.
In filing a lawsuit challenging the new health care law’s mandate that everyone must have health insurance, 13 state attorneys general cited the same legal reasoning that went into the Lopez ruling. At issue is the Constitution’s commerce clause, which limits the regulatory powers of Congress to matters involving interstate commerce. In the Lopez decision, conservatives led by then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist ruled that the 1990 gun law was unconstitutional because it had nothing to do with commerce between states. Upholding a federal right to control guns in school zones would give Congress “a general police power of the sort retained by the states,” Rehnquist wrote. That’s almost exactly the argument the states are making now about health care.