Printz v. United States (95-1478), 521 U.S. 898 (1997)
[ Breyer ]
[ Scalia ]
[ O'Connor ]
[ Stevens ]
[ Thomas ]
[ Souter ]
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Nos. 95-1478 and 95-1503


on writs of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

[June 27, 1997]

Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Souter, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Breyer join, dissenting.

When Congress exercises the powers delegated to it by the Constitution, it may impose affirmative obligations on executive and judicial officers of state and local governments as well as ordinary citizens. This conclusion is firmly supported by the text of the Constitution, the early history of the Nation, decisions of this Court, and a correct understanding of the basic structure of the Federal Government.

These cases do not implicate the more difficult questions associated with congressional coercion of state legislatures addressed in New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992). Nor need we consider the wisdom of relying on local officials rather than federal agents to carry out aspects of a federal program, or even the question whether such officials may be required to perform a federal function on a permanent basis. The question is whether Congress, acting on behalf of the people of the entire Nation, may require local law enforcement officers to perform certain duties during the interim needed for the development of a federal gun control program. It is remarkably similar to the question, heavily debated by the Framers of the Constitution, whether the Congress could require state agents to collect federal taxes. Or the question whether Congress could impress state judges into federal service to entertain and decide cases that they would prefer to ignore.

Indeed, since the ultimate issue is one of power, we must consider its implications in times of national emergency. Matters such as the enlistment of air raid wardens, the administration of a military draft, the mass inoculation of children to forestall an epidemic, or perhaps the threat of an international terrorist, may require a national response before federal personnel can be made available to respond. If the Constitution empowers Congress and the President to make an appropriate response, is there anything in the Tenth Amendment, "in historical understanding and practice, in the structure of the Constitution, [or] in the jurisprudence of this Court," ante, at 4, that forbids the enlistment of state officers to make that response effective? More narrowly, what basis is there in any of those sources for concluding that it is the Members of this Court, rather than the elected representatives of the people, who should determine whether the Constitution contains the unwritten rule that the Court announces today?

Perhaps today's majority would suggest that no such emergency is presented by the facts of these cases. But such a suggestion is itself an expression of a policy judgment. And Congress' view of the matter is quite different from that implied by the Court today.

The Brady Act was passed in response to what Congress described as an "epidemic of gun violence." H. R. Rep. No. 103-344, p. 8 (1993). The Act's legislative history notes that 15,377 Americans were murdered with firearms in 1992, and that 12,489 of these deaths were caused by handguns. Ibid. Congress expressed special concern that "[t]he level of firearm violence in this country is, by far, the highest among developed nations." Ibid. The partial solution contained in the Brady Act, a mandatory background check before a handgun may be purchased, has met with remarkable success. Between 1994 and 1996, approximately 6,600 firearm sales each month to potentially dangerous persons were prevented by Brady Act checks; over 70% of the rejected purchasers were convicted or indicted felons. See U. S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, A National Estimate: Presale Firearm Checks 1 (Feb. 1997). Whether or not the evaluation reflected in the enactment of the Brady Act is correct as to the extent of the danger and the efficacy of the legislation, the congressional decision surely warrants more respect than it is accorded in today's unprecedented decision.

The text of the Constitution provides a sufficient basis for a correct disposition of this case.

Article I, §8, grants the Congress the power to regulate commerce among the States. Putting to one side the revisionist views expressed by Justice Thomas in his concurring opinion in United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 584 (1995), there can be no question that that provision adequately supports the regulation of commerce in handguns effected by the Brady Act. Moreover, the additional grant of authority in that section of the Constitution "[t]o 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. In short, the affirmative delegation of power in Article I provides ample authority for the congressional enactment.

Unlike the First Amendment, which prohibits the enactment of a category of laws that would otherwise be authorized by Article I, the Tenth Amendment imposes no restriction on the exercise of delegated powers. Using language that plainly refers only to powers that are "not" delegated to Congress, it provides:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." U. S. Const., Amdt. 10.

The Amendment confirms the principle that the powers of the Federal Government are limited to those affirmatively granted by the Constitution, but it does not purport to limit the scope or the effectiveness of the exercise of powers that are delegated to Congress. [n.1] See New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 156 (1992) ("[i]n a case . . . involving the division of authority between federal and state governments, the two inquiries are mirror images of each other"). Thus, the Amendment provides no support for a rule that immunizes local officials from obligations that might be imposed on ordinary citizens. [n.2] Indeed, it would be more reasonable to infer that federal law may impose greater duties on state officials than on private citizens because another provision of the Constitution requires that "all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution." U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 3.

It is appropriate for state officials to make an oath or affirmation to support the Federal Constitution because, as explained in The Federalist, they "have an essential agency in giving effect to the federal Constitution." [n.3] The Federalist No. 44, p. 312 (E. Bourne ed. 1947) (J. Madison). There can be no conflict between their duties to the State and those owed to the Federal Government because Article VI unambiguously provides that federal law "shall be the supreme Law of the Land," binding in every State. U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. Thus, not only the Constitution, but every law enacted by Congress as well, establishes policy for the States just as firmly as do laws enacted by state legislatures.

The reasoning in our unanimous opinion explaining why state tribunals with ordinary jurisdiction over tort litigation can be required to hear cases arising under the Federal Employers' Liability Act applies equally to local law enforcement officers whose ordinary duties parallel the modest obligations imposed by the Brady Act:

"The suggestion that the act of Congress is not in harmony with the policy of the State, and therefore that the courts of the State are free to decline jurisdiction, is quite inadmissible, because it presupposes what in legal contemplation does not exist. When Congress, in the exertion of the power confided to it by the Constitution, adopted that act, it spoke for all the people and all the States, and thereby established a policy for all. That policy is as much the policy of Connecticut as if the act had emanated from its own legislature, and should be respected accordingly in the courts of the State. As was said by this court in Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130, 136, 137:

`The laws of the United States are laws in the several States, and just as much binding on the citizens and courts thereof as the State laws are. The United States is not a foreign sovereignty as regards the several States, but is a concurrent, and, within its jurisdiction, paramount sovereignty.' " Second Employers' Liability Cases, 223 U.S. 1, 57 (1912).

See also Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 392 (1947).

There is not a clause, sentence, or paragraph in the entire text of the Constitution of the United States that supports the proposition that a local police officer can ignore a command contained in a statute enacted by Congress pursuant to an express delegation of power enumerated in Article I.

Under the Articles of Confederation the National Government had the power to issue commands to the several sovereign states, but it had no authority to govern individuals directly. Thus, it raised an army and financed its operations by issuing requisitions to the constituent members of the Confederacy, rather than by creating federal agencies to draft soldiers or to impose taxes.

That method of governing proved to be unacceptable, not because it demeaned the sovereign character of the several States, but rather because it was cumbersome and inefficient. Indeed, a confederation that allows each of its members to determine the ways and means of complying with an overriding requisition is obviously more deferential to state sovereignty concerns than a national government that uses its own agents to impose its will directly on the citizenry. The basic change in the character of the government that the Framers conceived was designed to enhance the power of the national government, not to provide some new, unmentioned immunity for state officers. Because indirect control over individual citizens ("the only proper objects of government") was ineffective under the Articles of Confederation, Alexander Hamilton explained that "we must extend the authority of the Union to the persons of the citizens." The Federalist No. 15, at 101 (emphasis added).

Indeed, the historical materials strongly suggest that the Founders intended to enhance the capacity of the federal government by empowering it--as a part of the new authority to make demands directly on individual citizens--to act through local officials. Hamilton made clear that the new Constitution, "by extending the authority of the federal head to the individual citizens of the several States, will enable the government to employ the ordinary magistracy of each, in the execution of its laws." The Federalist No. 27, at 180. Hamilton's meaning was unambiguous; the federal government was to have the power to demand that local officials implement national policy programs. As he went on to explain: "It is easy to perceive that this will tend to destroy, in the common apprehension, all distinction between the sources from which [the state and federal governments] might proceed; and will give the federal government the same advantage for securing a due obedience to its authority which is enjoyed by the government of each State." Ibid. [n.4]

More specifically, during the debates concerning the ratification of the Constitution, it was assumed that state agents would act as tax collectors for the federal government. Opponents of the Constitution had repeatedly expressed fears that the new federal government's ability to impose taxes directly on the citizenry would result in an overbearing presence of federal tax collectors in the States. [n.5] Federalists rejoined that this problem would not arise because, as Hamilton explained, "the United States . . . will make use of the State officers and State regulations for collecting" certain taxes. Id., No. 36, at 235. Similarly, Madison made clear that the new central government's power to raise taxes directly from the citizenry would "not be resorted to, except for supplemental purposes of revenue . . . and that the eventual collection, under the immediate authority of the Union, will generally be made by the officers . . . appointed by the several States." Id., No. 45, at 318. [n.6]

The Court's response to this powerful historical evidence is weak. The majority suggests that "none of these statements necessarily implies . . . Congress could impose these responsibilities without the consent of the States." Ante, at 10-11 (emphasis omitted). No fair reading of these materials can justify such an interpretation. As Hamilton explained, the power of the government to act on "individual citizens"--including "employ[ing] the ordinary magistracy" of the States--was an answer to the problems faced by a central government that could act only directly "upon the States in their political or collective capacities." The Federalist, No. 27, at 179-180. The new Constitution would avoid this problem, resulting in "a regular and peaceable execution of the law of the Union." Ibid.

This point is made especially clear in Hamilton's statement that "the legislatures, courts, and magistrates, of the respective members, will be incorporated into the operations of the national government as far as its just and constitutional authority extends; and will be rendered auxiliary to the enforcement of its laws." Ibid. (second emphasis added). It is hard to imagine a more unequivocal statement that state judicial and executive branch officials may be required to implement federal law where the National Government acts within the scope of its affirmative powers. [n.7]

The Court makes two unpersuasive attempts to discount the force of this statement. First, according to the majority, because Hamilton mentioned the Supremacy Clause without specifically referring to any "congressional directive," the statement does not mean what it plainly says. Ante, at 12. But the mere fact that the Supremacy Clause is the source of the obligation of state officials to implement congressional directives does not remotely suggest that they might be " `incorporat[ed] into the operations of the national government' " before their obligations have been defined by Congress. Federal law establishes policy for the States just as firmly as laws enacted by state legislatures, but that does not mean that state or federal officials must implement directives that have not been specified in any law. [n.8] Second, the majority suggests that interpreting this passage to mean what it says would conflict with our decision in New York v. United States. Ante, at 12. But since the New York opinion did not mention Federalist No. 27, it does not affect either the relevance or the weight of the historical evidence provided by No. 27 insofar as it relates to state courts and magistrates.

Bereft of support in the history of the founding, the Court rests its conclusion on the claim that there is little evidence the National Government actually exercised such a power in the early years of the Republic. See ante, at 5. This reasoning is misguided in principle and in fact. While we have indicated that the express consideration and resolution of difficult constitutional issues by the First Congress in particular "provides `contemporaneous and weighty evidence' of the Constitution's meaning since many of [its] Members . . . `had taken part in framing that instrument,' " Bowsher v. Synar, 478 U.S. 714, 723-724 (1986) (quoting Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 790 (1983)), we have never suggested that the failure of the early Congresses to address the scope of federal power in a particular area or to exercise a particular authority was an argument against its existence. That position, if correct, would undermine most of our post-New Deal Commerce Clause jurisprudence. As Justice O'Connor quite properly noted in New York, "[t]he Federal Government undertakes activities today that would have been unimaginable to the Framers." 505 U. S., at 157.

More importantly, the fact that Congress did elect to rely on state judges and the clerks of state courts to perform a variety of executive functions, see ante, at 5-6, is surely evidence of a contemporary understanding that their status as state officials did not immunize them from federal service. The majority's description of these early statutes is both incomplete and at times misleading.

For example, statutes of the early Congresses required in mandatory terms that state judges and their clerks perform various executive duties with respect to applications for citizenship. The First Congress enacted a statute requiring that the state courts consider such applications, specifying that the state courts "shall administer" an oath of loyalty to the United States, and that "the clerk of such court shall record such application." Act of Mar. 26, 1790, ch. 3, §1, 1 Stat. 103 (emphasis added). Early legislation passed by the Fifth Congress also imposed reporting requirements relating to naturalization on court clerks, specifying that failure to perform those duties would result in a fine. Act of June 18, 1798, ch. 54, §2, 1 Stat. 567 (specifying that these obligations "shall be the duty of the clerk" (emphasis added)). Not long thereafter, the Seventh Congress mandated that state courts maintain a registry of aliens seeking naturalization. Court clerks were required to receive certain information from aliens, record that data, and provide certificates to the aliens; the statute specified fees to be received by local officials in compensation. Act of Apr. 14, 1802, ch. 28, §2, 2 Stat. 154-155 (specifying that these burdens "shall be the duty of such clerk" including clerks "of a . . . state" (emphasis added)). [n.9]

Similarly, the First Congress enacted legislation requiring state courts to serve, functionally, like contemporary regulatory agencies in certifying the seaworthiness of vessels. Act of July 20, 1790, ch. 29, §3, 1 Stat. 132-133. The majority casts this as an adjudicative duty, ante, at 6, but that characterization is misleading. The law provided that upon a complaint raised by a ship's crew members, the state courts were (if no federal court was proximately located) to appoint an investigative committee of three persons "most skilful in maritime affairs" to report back. On this basis, the judge was to determine whether the ship was fit for its intended voyage. The statute sets forth, in essence, procedures for an expert inquisitorial proceeding, supervised by a judge but otherwise more characteristic of executive activity. [n.10]

The Court assumes that the imposition of such essentially executive duties on state judges and their clerks sheds no light on the question whether executive officials might have an immunity from federal obligations. Ante, at 6. Even assuming that the enlistment of state judges in their judicial role for federal purposes is irrelevant to the question whether executive officials may be asked to perform the same function--a claim disputed below, see infra, at 32--the majority's analysisis badly mistaken.

We are far truer to the historical record by applying a functional approach in assessing the role played by these early state officials. The use of state judges and their clerks to perform executive functions was, in historical context, hardly unusual. As one scholar has noted, "two centuries ago, state and local judges and associated judicial personnel performed many of the functions today performed by executive officers, including such varied tasks as laying city streets and ensuring the seaworthiness of vessels." Caminker, State Sovereignty and Subordinacy: May Congress Commandeer State Officers to Implement Federal Law?, 95 Colum. L. Rev. 1001, 1045, n. 176 (1995). And, of course, judges today continue to perform a variety of functions that may more properly be described as executive. See, e.g., Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 227 (1988) (noting "intelligible distinction between judicial acts and the administrative, legislative, or executive functions that judges may on occasion be assigned to perform"). The majority's insistence that this evidence of federal enlistment of state officials to serve executive functions is irrelevant simply because the assistance of "judges" was at issue rests on empty formalistic reasoning of the highest order. [n.11]

The Court's evaluation of the historical evidence, furthermore, fails to acknowledge the important difference between policy decisions that may have been influenced by respect for state sovereignty concerns, and decisions that are compelled by the Constitution. [n.12] Thus, for example, the decision by Congress to give President Wilson the authority to utilize the services of state officers in implementing the World War I draft, see Act of May 18, 1917, ch. 15, §6, 40 Stat. 80-81, surely indicates that the national legislature saw no constitutional impediment to the enlistment of state assistance during a federal emergency. The fact that the President was able to implement the program by respectfully "request[ing]" state action, rather than bluntly commanding it, is evidence that he was an effective statesman, but surely does not indicate that he doubted either his or Congress' power to use mandatory language if necessary. [n.13] If there were merit to the Court's appraisal of this incident, one would assume that there would have been some contemporary comment on the supposed constitutional concern that hypothetically might have motivated the President's choice of language. [n.14]

The Court concludes its review of the historical materials with a reference to the fact that our decision in INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983), invalidated a large number of statutes enacted in the 1970's, implying that recent enactments by Congress that are similar to the Brady Act are not entitled to any presumption of validity. But in Chadha, unlike this case, our decision rested on the Constitution's express bicameralism and presentment requirements, id., at 946, not on judicial inferences drawn from a silent text and a historical record that surely favors the congressional understanding. Indeed, the majority's opinion consists almost entirely of arguments against the substantial evidenceweighing in opposition to its view; the Court's ruling is strikingly lacking in affirmative support. Absent even a modicum of textual foundation for its judicially crafted constitutional rule, there should be a presumption that if the Framers had actually intended such a rule, at least one of them would have mentioned it. [n.15]

The Court's "structural" arguments are not sufficient to rebut that presumption. The fact that the Framers intended to preserve the sovereignty of the several States simply does not speak to the question whether individual state employees may be required to perform federal obligations, such as registering young adults for the draft, 40 Stat. 80-81, creating state emergency response commissions designed to manage the release of hazardous substances, 42 U.S.C. §§ 11001 11003, collecting and reporting data on underground storage tanks that may pose an environmental hazard, §6991a, and reporting traffic fatalities, 23 U.S.C. § 402(a), and missing children, 42 U.S.C. § 5779(a), to a federal agency. [n.16]

As we explained in Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, 469 U.S. 528 (1985):%[T]he principal means chosen by the Framers to ensure the role of the States in the federal system lies in the structure of the Federal Government itself. It is no novelty to observe that the composition of the Federal Government was designed in large part to protect the States from overreaching by Congress." Id., at 550-551. Given the fact that the Members of Congress are electedby the people of the several States, with each State receiving an equivalent number of Senators in order to ensure that even the smallest States have a powerful voice in the legislature, it is quite unrealistic to assume that they will ignore the sovereignty concerns of their constituents. It is far more reasonable to presume that their decisions to impose modest burdens on state officials from time to time reflect a considered judgment that the people in each of the States will benefit therefrom.

Indeed, the presumption of validity that supports all congressional enactments [n.17] has added force with respect to policy judgments concerning the impact of a federal statute upon the respective States. The majority points to nothing suggesting that the political safeguards of federalism identified in Garcia need be supplemented by a rule, grounded in neither constitutional history nor text, flatly prohibiting the National Government from enlisting state and local officials in the implementation of federal law.

Recent developments demonstrate that the political safeguards protecting Our Federalism are effective. Themajority expresses special concern that were its rule not adopted the Federal Government would be able to avail itself of the services of state government officials "at no cost to itself." Ante, at 23; see also ante, at 31 (arguing that "Members of Congress can take credit for `solving' problems without having to ask their constituents to pay for the solutions with higher federal taxes"). But this specific problem of federal actions that have the effect of imposing so called "unfunded mandates" on the States has been identified and meaningfully addressed by Congress in recent legislation. [n.18] See Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995, Pub. L. 104-4, 109 Stat. 48.

The statute was designed "to end the imposition, in the absence of full consideration by Congress, of Federal mandates on State . . . governments without adequate Federal funding, in a manner that may displace other essential State . . . governmental priorities." 2 U. S. C. A. §1501(2) (Supp. 1997). It functions, inter alia, by permitting Members of Congress to raise an objection by point of order to a pending bill that contains an "unfunded mandate," as defined by the statute, of over $50 million. [n.19] The mandate may not then be enacted unless the Members make an explicit decision to proceed anyway. See Recent Legislation, Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995, 109 Harv. L. Rev. 1469 (1996) (describing functioning of statute). Whatever the ultimate impact of the new legislation, its passage demonstrates that unelected judges are better off leaving the protection of federalism to the political process in all but the most extraordinary circumstances. [n.20]

Perversely, the majority's rule seems more likely to damage than to preserve the safeguards against tyranny provided by the existence of vital state governments. By limiting the ability of the Federal Government to enlist state officials in the implementation of its programs, the Court creates incentives for the National Government to aggrandize itself. In the name of State's rights, the majority would have the Federal Government create vast national bureaucracies to implement its policies. This is exactly the sort of thing that the early Federalists promised would not occur, in part as a result of the National Government's ability to rely on the magistracy of the states. See, e.g., The Federalist No. 36, at 234-235 (Hamilton); id., No. 45, at 318(Madison). [n.21]

With colorful hyperbole, the Court suggests that the unity in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government "would be shattered, and the power of the President would be subject to reduction, if Congress could . . . require . . . state officers to execute its laws." Ante, at 23-24. Putting to one side the obvious tension between the majority's claim that impressing state police officers will unduly tip the balance of power in favor of the federal sovereign and this suggestion that it will emasculate the Presidency, the Court's reasoningcontradicts New York v. United States. [n.22]

That decision squarely approved of cooperative federalism programs, designed at the national level but implemented principally by state governments. New York disapproved of a particular method of putting such programs into place, not the existence of federal programs implemented locally. See New York, 505 U. S., at 166 ("Our cases have identified a variety of methods . . . by which Congress may urge a State to adopt a legislative program consistent with federal interests"). Indeed, nothing in the majority's holding calls into question the three mechanisms for constructing such programs that New York expressly approved. Congress may require the States to implement its programs as a condition of federal spending, [n.23] in order to avoid the threat of unilateral federal action in the area, [n.24] or as a part of a program that affects States and private parties alike. [n.25] The majority's suggestion in response to this dissent that Congress' ability to create such programs is limited, ante, at 24, n. 12, is belied by the importance and sweep of the federal statutes that meet this description, some of which we described in New York. See id., at 167-168 (mentioning, inter alia, the Clean Water Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, andthe Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976).

Nor is there force to the assumption undergirding the Court's entire opinion that if this trivial burden on state sovereignty is permissible, the entire structure of federalism will soon collapse. These cases do not involve any mandate to state legislatures to enact new rules. When legislative action, or even administrative rule making, is at issue, it may be appropriate for Congress either to pre-empt the State's lawmaking power and fashion the federal rule itself, or to respect the State's power to fashion its own rules. But this case, unlike any precedent in which the Court has held that Congress exceeded its powers, merely involves the imposition of modest duties on individual officers. The Court seems to accept the fact that Congress could require private persons, such as hospital executives or school administrators, to provide arms merchants with relevant information about a prospective purchaser's fitness to own a weapon; indeed, the Court does not disturb the conclusion that flows directly from our prior holdings that the burden on police officers would be permissible if a similar burden were also imposed on private parties with access to relevant data. See New York, 505 U. S., at 160; Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, 469 U.S. 528 (1985). A structural problem that vanishes when the statute affects private individuals as well as public officials is not much of a structuralproblem.

Far more important than the concerns that the Court musters in support of its new rule is the fact that the Framers entrusted Congress with the task of creating a working structure of intergovernmental relationships around the framework that the Constitution authorized. Neither explicitly nor implicitly did the Framers issue any command that forbids Congress from imposing federal duties on private citizens or on local officials. As a general matter, Congress has followed the soundpolicy of authorizing federal agencies and federal agents to administer federal programs. That general practice, however, does not negate the existence of power to rely on state officials in occasional situations in which such reliance is in the national interest. Rather, the occasional exceptions confirm the wisdom of Justice Holmes' reminder that "the machinery of government would not work if it were not allowed a little play in its joints." Bain Peanut Co. of Tex. v. Pinson, 282 U.S. 499, 501 (1931).

Finally, the Court advises us that the "prior jurisprudence of this Court" is the most conclusive support for its position. Ante, at 26. That "prior jurisprudence" is New York v. United States. [n.26] The case involved the validity of a federal statute that provided the States with three types of incentives to encourage them to dispose of radioactive wastes generated within their borders. The Court held that the first two sets of incentives were authorized by affirmative grants of power to Congress, and therefore "not inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment." 505 U. S., at 173, 174. That holding, of course, sheds no doubt on the validity of the Brady Act.

The third so called "incentive" gave the States the option either of adopting regulations dictated by Congress or of taking title to and possession of the low level radioactive waste. The Court concluded that, because Congress had no power to compel the stategovernments to take title to the waste, the "option" really amounted to a simple command to the States to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program. Id., at 176. The Court explained:

"A choice between two unconstitutionally coercive regulatory techniques is no choice at all. Either way, `the Act commandeers the legislative processes of the States by directly compelling them to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program,' Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Assn., Inc., supra, at 288, an outcome that has never been understood to lie within the authority conferred upon Congress by the Constitution." Ibid.

After noting that the "take title provision appears to be unique" because no other federal statute had offered "a state government no option other than that of implementing legislation enacted by Congress," the Court concluded that the provision was "inconsistent with the federal structure of our Government established by the Constitution." Id., at 177.

Our statements, taken in context, clearly did not decide the question presented here, whether state executive officials--as opposed to state legislators--may in appropriate circumstances be enlisted to implement federal policy. The "take title" provision at issue in New York was beyond Congress' authority to enact because it was "in principle . . . no different than a congressionally compelled subsidy from state governments to radioactive waste producers," 505 U. S., at 175, almost certainly a legislative act.

The majority relies upon dictum in New York to the effect that "[t]he Federal Government may not compel the States to enact or administer a federal regulatory program." Id., at 188 (emphasis added); see ante, at 35. But that language was wholly unnecessary to the decision of the case. It is, of course, beyond dispute thatwe are not bound by the dicta of our prior opinions. See, e.g., U. S. Bancorp Mortgage Co. v. Bonner Mall Partnership, 513 U.S. 18, 24 (1994) (Scalia, J.) ("invoking our customary refusal to be bound by dicta"). To the extent that it has any substance at all, New York's administration language may have referred to the possibility that the State might have been able to take title to and devise an elaborate scheme for the management of the radioactive waste through purely executive policymaking. But despite the majority's effort to suggest that similar activities are required by the Brady Act, see ante, at 28-29, it is hard to characterize the minimal requirement that CLEOs perform background checks as one involving the exercise of substantial policymaking discretion on that essentially legislative scale. [n.27]

Indeed, Justice Kennedy's recent comment about another case that was distinguishable from New York applies to these cases as well:

"This is not a case where the etiquette of federalism has been violated by a formal command from the National Government directing the State to enact a certain policy, cf. New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992), or to organize its governmental functions in a certain way, cf. FERC v. Mississippi, 456 U. S., at 781, (O'Connor, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part)." Lopez, 514 U. S., at 583 (Kennedy, J., concurring).

In response to this dissent, the majority asserts that the difference between a federal command addressed to individuals and one addressed to the State itself "cannot be a constitutionally significant one." Ante, at 32. But as I have already noted, n. 16, supra, there is abundant authority in our Eleventh Amendment jurisprudence recognizing a constitutional distinction between local government officials, such as the CLEO's who brought this action, and State entities that are entitled to sovereign immunity. To my knowledge, no one has previously thought that the distinction "disembowels," ante, at 32-33, the Eleventh Amendment. [n.28]

Importantly, the majority either misconstrues or ignores three cases that are more directly on point. In FERC, we upheld a federal statute requiring state utilities commissions, inter alia, to take the affirmative step of considering federal energy standards in a manner complying with federally specified notice and comment procedures, and to report back to Congress periodically. The state commissions could avoid this obligation only by ceasing regulation in the field, a "choice" that we recognized was realistically foreclosed, since Congress had put forward no alternative regulatory scheme to govern this very important area. 456 U. S., at 764, 766, 770. The burden on state officials that we approved in FERC was far more extensive than the minimal, temporary imposition posed by the Brady Act. [n.29]

Similarly, in Puerto Rico v. Branstad, 483 U.S. 219 (1987), we overruled our earlier decision in Kentucky v. Dennison, 24 How. 66 (1861), and held that the Extradition Act of 1793 permitted the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to seek extradition of a fugitive from its laws without constitutional barrier. The Extradition Act, as the majority properly concedes, plainly imposes duties on state executive officers. See ante, at 8. The majority suggests that this statute is nevertheless of little importance because it simply constitutes an implementation of the authority granted the National Government by the Constitution's Extradition Clause, Art. IV, §2. But in Branstad we noted ambiguity as to whether Puerto Rico benefits from that Clause, which applies on its face only to "States." Avoiding the question of the Clause's applicability, we held simply that under the Extradition Act Puerto Rico had the power to request that the State of Iowa deliver up the fugitive the Commonwealth sought. 483 U. S., at 229-230. Although Branstad relied on the authority of the Act alone, without the benefit of the Extradition Clause, we noted no barrier to our decision in the principles of federalism--despite the fact that one Member of the Court brought the issue to our attention, see id., at 231(Scalia, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). [n.30]

Finally, the majority provides an incomplete explana tion of our decision in Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386 (1947), and demeans its importance. In that case the Court unanimously held that state courts of appropriate jurisdiction must occupy themselves adjudicating claims brought by private litigants under the federal Emergency Price Control Act of 1942, regardless of how otherwise crowded their dockets might be with state law matters. That is a much greater imposition on state sovereignty than the Court's characterization of the case as merely holding that "state courts cannot refuse to apply federal law," ante, at 30. That characterization describes only the narrower duty to apply federal law in cases that the state courts have consented to entertain.

The language drawn from the Supremacy Clause upon which the majority relies ("the Judges in every State shall be bound [by federal law], any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding"), expressly embraces that narrower conflict of laws principle. Art. VI, cl. 2. But the Supremacy Clause means far more. As Testa held, because the "Laws of the United States . . . [are] the supreme Law of the Land," state courts of appropriate jurisdiction must hear federal claims whenever a federal statute, such as the Emergency Price Control Act, requires them to do so. Ibid.

Hence, the Court's textual argument is quite misguided. The majority focuses on the Clause's specific attention to the point that "Judges in every State shall bebound." Ibid. That language commands state judges to "apply federal law" in cases that they entertain, but it is not the source of their duty to accept jurisdiction of federal claims that they would prefer to ignore. Our opinions in Testa, and earlier the Second Employers' Liability Cases, rested generally on the language of the Supremacy Clause, without any specific focus on the

reference to judges. [n.31]

The majority's reinterpretation of Testa also contradicts our decision in FERC. In addition to the holding mentioned earlier, see supra, at 30, we also approved in that case provisions of federal law requiring a state utilities commission to "adjudicate disputes arising under [a federal] statute." FERC, 456 U. S., at 760. Because the state commission had "jurisdiction to entertain claims analogous to those" put before it under the federal statute, ibid., we held that Testa required it to adjudicate the federal claims. Although the commission was serving an adjudicative function, the commissioners were unquestionably not "judges" within the meaning of Art. VI, cl. 2. It is impossible to reconcile the Court's present view that Testa rested entirely on the specific reference to state judges in the Supremacy Clause with our extension of that early case in FERC. [n.32]

Even if the Court were correct in its suggestion that it was the reference to judges in the Supremacy Clause, rather than the central message of the entire Clause, that dictated the result in Testa, the Court's implied expressio unius argument that the Framers therefore did not intend to permit the enlistment of other state officials is implausible. Throughout our history judges, state as well as federal, have merited as much respect as executive agents. The notion that the Framers would have had no reluctance to "press state judges into federal service" against their will but would have regarded the imposition of a similar--indeed, far lesser-- burden on town constables as an intolerable affront to principles of state sovereignty, can only be considered perverse. If such a distinction had been contemplated by the learned and articulate men who fashioned the basic structure of our government, surely some of them would have said so. [n.33]

* * *

The provision of the Brady Act that crosses the Court's newly defined constitutional threshold is more comparable to a statute requiring local police officers to report the identity of missing children to the CrimeControl Center of the Department of Justice than to an offensive federal command to a sovereign state. If Congress believes that such a statute will benefit the people of the Nation, and serve the interests of cooperative federalism better than an enlarged federal bureaucracy, we should respect both its policy judgment and its appraisal of its constitutional power.

Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.


1 Indeed, the Framers repeatedly rejected proposed changes to the Tenth Amendment that would have altered the text to refer to "powers not expressly delegated to the United States." 3 W. Crosskey & W. Jeffrey, Politics and the Constitution in the History of the United States 36 (1980). This was done, as Madison explained, because "it was impossible to confine a Government to the exercise of express powers; there must necessarily be admitted powers by implication, unless the constitution descended to recount every minutia." 1 Annals of Cong. 790 (Aug. 18, 1789); see McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 406-407 (1819).

2 Recognizing the force of the argument, the Court suggests that this reasoning is in error because--even if it is responsive to the submission that the Tenth Amendment roots the principle set forth by the majority today--it does not answer the possibility that the Court's holding can be rooted in a "principle of state sovereignty" mentioned nowhere in the constitutional text. See ante, at 24. As a ground for invalidating important federal legislation, this argument is remarkably weak. The majority's further claim that, while the Brady Act may be legislation "necessary" to Congress' execution of its undisputed Commerce Clause authority to regulate firearms sales, it is nevertheless not "proper" because it violates state sovereignty, see ibid., is wholly circular and provides no traction for its argument. Moreover, this reading of the term "proper" gives it a meaning directly contradicted by Chief Justice Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316 (1819). As the Chief Justice explained, the Necessary and Proper Clause by "[i]ts terms purport[s] to enlarge, not to diminish the powers vested in the government. It purports to be an additional power, not a restriction on those already granted." Id., at 420; see also id., at 418-419(explaining that "the only possible effect" of the use of the term "proper" was "to present to the mind the idea of some choice of means of legislation not straitened and compressed within . . . narrow limits").

Our ruling in New York that the Commerce Clause does not provide Congress the authority to require States to enact legislation--a power that affects States far closer to the core of their sovereign authority--does nothing to support the majority's unwarranted extension of that reasoning today.

3 "It has been asked why it was thought necessary, that the State magistracy should be bound to support the federal Constitution, and unnecessary that a like oath should be imposed on the officers of the United States, in favor of the State constitutions.

"Several reasons might be assigned for the distinction. I content myself with one, which is obvious and conclusive. The members of the federal government will have no agency in carrying the State constitutions into effect. The members and officers of the State governments, on the contrary, will have an essential agency in giving effect to the federal Constitution." The Federalist No. 44, at 312 (J. Madison).

4 The notion that central government would rule by directing the actions of local magistrates was scarcely a novel conception at the time of the founding. Indeed, as an eminent scholar recentlyobserved: "At the time the Constitution was being framed . . . Massachusetts had virtually no administrative apparatus of its own but used the towns for such purposes as tax gathering. In the 1830s Tocqueville observed this feature of government in New England and praised it for its ideal combination of centralized legislation and decentralized administration." S. Beer, To Make a Nation: The Rediscovery of American Federalism 252 (1993). This may have provided a model for the expectation of "Madison himself . . . [that] the new federal government [would] govern through the state governments, rather in the manner of the New England states in relation to their local governments." Ibid.

5 See, e.g., 1 Debate on the Constitution 502 (B. Bailyn ed. 1993) (statement of "Brutus" that the new Constitution would "ope[n] a door to the appointment of a swarm of revenue and excise officers to prey upon the honest and industrious part of the community"); 2 id., at 633 (statement of Patrick Henry at the Virginia Convention that "the salaries and fees of the swarm of officers and dependants on the Government will cost this Continent immense sums" and noting that "[d]ouble sets of [tax] collectors will double the expence").

6 Antifederalists acknowledged this response, and recognized the likelihood that the federal government would rely on state officials to collect its taxes. See, e.g., 3 J. Elliot, Debates on the Federal Constitution 167-168 (2d ed. 1891) (statement of Patrick Henry). The wide acceptance of this point by all participants in the framing casts serious doubt on the majority's efforts, see ante, at 16, n. 9, to suggest that the view that state officials could be called upon toimplement federal programs was somehow an unusual or peculiar position.

7 Hamilton recognized the force of his comments, acknowledgingbut rejecting opponents' "sophist[ic]" arguments to the effect that this position would "tend to the destruction of the State governments." The Federalist No. 27, at 180, *.

8 Indeed, the majority's suggestion that this consequence flows "automatically" from the officers' oath, ante, at 12 (emphasis omitted), is entirely without foundation in the quoted text. Although the fact that the Court has italicized the word "automatically" may give the reader the impression that it is a word Hamilton used, that is not so.

9 The majority asserts that these statutes relating to the administration of the federal naturalization scheme are not proper evidence of the original understanding because over a century later, in Holmgren v. United States, 217 U.S. 509 (1910), this Court observed that that case did not present the question whether the States can be required to enforce federal laws "against their consent," id., at 517. The majority points to similar comments in United States v. Jones, 109 U.S. 513, 519-520 (1883). See ante, at 5-6.

Those cases are unpersuasive authority. First, whatever their statements in dicta, the naturalization statutes at issue here, as made clear in the text, were framed in quite mandatory terms. Even the majority only goes so far as to say that "[i]t may well be" that these facially mandatory statutes in fact rested on voluntary state participation. Ante, at 5. Any suggestion to the contrary is belied by the language of the statutes themselves.

Second, both of the cases relied upon by the majority rest on now rejected doctrine. In Jones, the Court indicated that various duties, including the requirement that state courts of appropriate jurisdiction hear federal questions, "could not be enforced against the consent of the States." 109 U. S., at 520. That view was unanimously resolved to the contrary thereafter in the Second Employers' Liability Cases, 223 U.S. 1, 57 (1912), and in Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386 (1947).

Finally, the Court suggests that the obligation set forth in the latter two cases that state courts hear federal claims is "voluntary" in that States need not create courts of ordinary jurisdiction. That is true, but unhelpful to the majority. If a State chooses to have no local law enforcement officials it may avoid the Brady Act's requirements, and if it chooses to have no courts it may avoid Testa. Butneither seems likely.

10 Other statutes mentioned by the majority are also wrongly miscategorized as involving essentially judicial matters. For example, the Fifth Congress enacted legislation requiring state courts to serve as repositories for reporting what amounted to administrative claims against the United States Government, under a statute providing compensation in land to Canadian refugees who had supported the United States during the Revolutionary War. Contrary to the majority's suggestion, that statute did not amount to a requirement that state courts adjudicate claims, see ante, at 8, n. 2; final decisions as to appropriate compensation were made by federal authorities, see Act of Apr. 7, 1798, ch. 26, § 3, 1 Stat. 548.

11 Able to muster little response other than the bald claim that this argument strikes the majority as "doubtful," ante, at 8, n. 2, the Court proceeds to attack the basic point that the statutes discussed above called state judges to serve what were substantially executive functions. The argument has little force. The majority's view that none of the statutes referred to in the text required judges to perform anything other than "quintessentially adjudicative tasks[s]," ibid., is quite wrong. The evaluation of applications for citizenship and the acceptance of Revolutionary War claims for example, both discussed above, are hard to characterize as the sort of adversarial proceedings to which common law courts are accustomed. As for the majority's suggestion that the substantial administrative requirements imposed on state court clerks under the naturalization statutes are merely "ancillary" and therefore irrelevant, this conclusion is in considerable tension with the Court's holding that the minor burden imposed by the Brady Act violates the Constitution. Finally, the majority's suggestion that the early statute requiring federal courts to assess the seaworthiness of vessels is essentially adjudicative in nature is not compelling. Activities of this sort, although they may bear some resemblance to traditional common law adjudication, are far afield from the classical model of adversarial litigation.

12 Indeed, an entirely appropriate concern for the prerogatives of state government readily explains Congress' sparing use of this otherwise "highly attractive," ante, at 5, 7, power. Congress' discretion, contrary to the majority's suggestion, indicates not that the power does not exist, but rather that the interests of the States are more than sufficiently protected by their participation in the National Government. See infra, at 19-20.

13 Indeed, the very commentator upon whom the majority relies noted that the "President might, under the act, have issued orders directly to every state officer, and this would have been, for warpurposes, a justifiable Congressional grant of all state powers into the President's hands." Note, The President, The Senate, The Constitution, and the Executive Order of May 8, 1926, 21 U. Ill. L. Rev. 142, 144 (1926).

14 Even less probative is the Court's reliance on the decision by Congress to authorize federal marshalls to rent temporary jail facilities instead of insisting that state jailkeepers house federal prisoners at federal expense. See ante, at 9. The majority finds constitutional significance in the fact that the First Congress (apparently following practice appropriate under the Articles of Confederation) had issued a request to state legislatures rather than a command to state jailkeepers, see Resolution of Sept. 29, 1789, 1 Stat. 96, and the further fact that it chose not to change that request to a command 18 months later, see Resolution of Mar. 3, 1791, 1 Stat. 225. The Court does not point us to a single comment by any Member of Congress suggesting that either decision was motivated in the slightest by constitutional doubts. If this sort of unexplained congressional action provides sufficient historical evidence to support the fashioning of judge made rules of constitutional law, the doctrine of judicial restraint has a brief, though probably colorful, life expectancy.

15 Indeed, despite the exhaustive character of the Court's response to this dissent, it has failed to find even an iota of evidence that any of the Framers of the Constitution or any Member of Congress who supported or opposed the statutes discussed in the text ever expressed doubt as to the power of Congress to impose federal responsibilities on local judges or police officers. Even plausible rebuttals of evidence consistently pointing in the other direction are no substitute for affirmative evidence. In short, a neutral historian would have to conclude that the Court's discussion of history does not even begin to establish a prima facie case.

16 The majority's argument is particularly peculiar because these cases do not involve the enlistment of state officials at all, but only an effort to have federal policy implemented by officials of local government. Both Sheriffs Printz and Mack are county officials. Given that the Brady Act places its interim obligations on Chief law enforcement officers (CLEOs), who are defined as "the chief ofpolice, the sheriff, or an equivalent officer," 18 U.S.C. § 922(s)(8), it seems likely that most cases would similarly involve local government officials.

This Court has not had cause in its recent federalism jurisprudence to address the constitutional implications of enlisting non state officials for federal purposes. (We did pass briefly on the issue in a footnote in National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833, 855, n. 20 (1976), but that case was overruled in its entirety by Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, 469 U.S. 528 (1985). The question was not called to our attention in Garcia itself.) It is therefore worth noting that the majority's decision is in considerable tension with our Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity cases. Those decisions were designed to "accor[d] the States the respect owed them as members of the federation." Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 146 (1993). But despite the fact that "political subdivisions exist solely at the whim and behest of their State," Port Authority Trans Hudson Corp. v. Feeney, 495 U.S. 299, 313 (1990) (Brennan, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment), we have "consistently refused to construe the Amendment to afford protection to political subdivisions such as counties and municipalities." Lake Country Estates, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 440 U.S. 391, 401 (1979); see also Hess v. Port Authority Trans Hudson Corporation, 513 U.S. 30, 47 (1994). Even if the protections that the majority describes as rooted in the Tenth Amendment ought to benefit state officials, it is difficult to reconcile the decision to extend these principles to local officials with our refusal to do so in the Eleventh Amendment context. If the federal judicial power may be exercised over local government officials, it is hard to see why they are not subject to the legislative power as well.

17 "Whenever called upon to judge the constitutionality of an Act of Congress--`the gravest and most delicate duty that this Court is called upon to perform,' Blodgett v. Holden, 275 U.S. 142, 148 (1927) (Holmes, J.)--the Court accords `great weight to the decisions of Congress.' Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Democratic National Committee, 412 U.S. 94, 102 (1973). The Congress is a coequal branch of government whose Members take the same oath we do to uphold the Constitution of the United States. As Justice Frankfurter noted in Joint Anti Fascist Refugee Committee v.McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 164 (1951) (concurring opinion), we must have `due regard to the fact that this Court is not exercising a primary judgment but is sitting in judgment upon those who also have taken the oath to observe the Constitution and who have the responsibility for carrying on government.' " Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57, 64 (1981).

18 The majority also makes the more general claim that requiring state officials to carry out federal policy causes states to "tak[e] the blame" for failed programs. Ante, at 31. The Court cites no empirical authority to support the proposition, relying entirely on the speculations of a law review article. This concern is vastly overstated.

Unlike state legislators, local government executive officials routinely take action in response to a variety of sources of authority: local ordinance, state law, and federal law. It doubtless may therefore require some sophistication to discern under which authority an executive official is acting, just as it may not always be immediately obvious what legal source of authority underlies a judicial decision. In both cases, affected citizens must look past the official before them to find the true cause of their grievance. See FERC v. Mississippi, 456 U.S. 742, 785 (1982) (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (legislators differ from judges because legislators have "the power to choose subjects for legislation"). But the majority's rule neither creates nor alters this basic truth.

The problem is of little real consequence in any event, because to the extent that a particular action proves politically unpopular, we may be confident that elected officials charged with implementing it will be quite clear to their constituents where the source of the misfortune lies. These cases demonstrate the point. Sheriffs Printz and Mack have made public statements, including their decisions to serve as plaintiffs in these actions, denouncing the Brady Act. See, e.g., Shaffer, Gun Suit Shoots Sheriff into Spotlight, ArizonaRepublic, July 5, 1994, p. B1; Downs, Most Gun Dealers Shrug off Proposal to Raise License Fee, Missoulian, Jan. 5, 1994. Indeed, Sheriff Mack has written a book discussing his views on theissue. See R. Mack & T. Walters, From My Cold Dead Fingers: Why America Needs Guns (1994). Moreover, we can be sure that CLEOs will inform disgruntled constituents who have been denied permission to purchase a handgun about the origins of the Brady Act requirements. The Court's suggestion that voters will be confused over who is to "blame" for the statute reflects a gross lack of confidence in the electorate that is at war with the basic assumptions underlying any democratic government.

19 Unlike the majority's judicially crafted rule, the statute excludes from its coverage bills in certain subject areas, such as emergency matters, legislation prohibiting discrimination, and national security measures. See 2 U. S. C. A. §1503 (Supp. 1997).

20 The initial signs are that the Act will play an important role in curbing the behavior about which the majority expresses concern. In the law's first year, the Congressional Budget Office identified only five bills containing unfunded mandates over the statutory threshold. Of these, one was not enacted into law, and three were modified to limit their effect on the States. The fifth, which was enacted, was scarcely a program of the sort described by the majority at all; it was a generally applicable increase in the minimum wage. See Congressional Budget Office, The Experience of the Congressional Budget Office During the First Year of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act 13-15 (Jan. 1997).

21 The Court raises the specter that the National Government seeks the authority "to impress into its service . . . the police officers of the 50 States." Ante, at 23. But it is difficult to see how state sovereignty and individual liberty are more seriously threatened by federal reliance on state police officers to fulfill this minimal request than by the aggrandizement of a national police force. The Court's alarmist hypothetical is no more persuasive than the likelihood that Congress would actually enact any such program.

22 Moreover, with respect to programs that directly enlist the local government officials, the majority's position rests on nothing more than a fanciful hypothetical. The enactment of statutes that merely involve the gathering of information, or the use of state officials on an interim basis, do not raise even arguable separation of powers concerns.

23 See New York, 505 U. S., at 167; see, e.g., South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987); see also ante, at 1-2 (O'Connor, J., concurring).

24 New York, 505 U. S., at 167; see, e.g., Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Assn., Inc., 452 U.S. 264 (1981).

25 New York, 505 U. S., at 160; see, e.g., Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, 469 U.S. 528 (1985).

26 The majority also cites to FERC v. Mississippi, 456 U.S. 742 (1982), and Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Assn., Inc., 452 U.S. 264 (1981). See ante, at 26-27. Neither case addressed the issue presented here. Hodel simply reserved the question. See 452 U. S., at 288. The Court's subsequent opinion in FERC did the same, see 456 U. S., at 764-765; and, both its holding and reasoning cut against the majority's view in this case.

27 Indeed, this distinction is made in the New York opinion itself. In that case, the Court rejected the Government's argument that earlier decisions supported the proposition that "the Constitution does, in some circumstances, permit federal directives to state governments." New York, 505 U. S., at 178. But in doing so, it distinguished those cases on a ground that applies to the federal directive in the Brady Act:

"[A]ll involve congressional regulation of individuals, not congressional requirements that States regulate.

. . . . .

"[T]he cases relied upon by the United States hold only that federal law is enforceable in state courts and that federal courts may in proper circumstances order state officials to comply with federal law, propositions that by no means imply any authority on the part of Congress to mandate state regulation." Id., at 178-179.

The Brady Act contains no command directed to a sovereign State or to a state legislature. It does not require any state entity to promulgate any federal rule. In this case, the federal statute is not even being applied to any state official. See n. 16, supra. It is a "congressional regulation of individuals," New York, 505 U. S., at 178, including gun retailers and local police officials. Those officials, like the judges referred to in the New York opinion, are bound by the Supremacy Clause to comply with federal law. Thus if we accept the distinction identified in the New York opinion itself, thatdecision does not control the disposition of these cases.

28 Ironically, the distinction that the Court now finds so preposterous can be traced to the majority opinion in National League of Cities. See 426 U. S., at 854 ("the States as States stand on a quite different footing from an individual or a corporation when challenging the exercise of Congress' power to regulate commerce"). The fact that the distinction did not provide an adequate basis for curtailing the power of Congress to extend the coverage of the Fair Labor Standards Act to state employees does not speak to the question whether it may identify a legitimate difference between a directive to local officers to provide information or assistance to the Federal Government and a directive to a State to enact legislation.

29 The majority correctly notes the opinion's statement that "this Court never has sanctioned explicitly a federal command to the States to promulgate and enforce laws and regulations . . . ." FERC, 456 U. S., at 761-762. But the Court truncates this quotation in a grossly misleading fashion. We continued by noting in that very sentence that "there are instances where the Court has upheld federal statutory structures that in effect directed state decisionmakers to take or to refrain from taking certain actions." Ibid. Indeed, the Court expressly rejected as "rigid and isolated," id., at 761, our suggestion long ago in Kentucky v. Dennison, 24 How. 66, 107 (1861), that Congress "has no power to impose on a State officer, as such, any duty whatever."

30 Moreover, Branstad unequivocally rejected an important premise that resonates throughout the majority opinion: namely, that because the States retain their sovereignty in areas that are unregulated by federal law, notions of comity rather than constitutional power govern any direction by the National Government to state executive or judicial officers. That construct was the product of the ill starred opinion of Chief Justice Taney in Kentucky v. Dennison, 24 How. 66 (1861), announced at a time when "the practical power of the Federal Government [was] at its lowest ebb," Branstad, 483 U. S., at 225. As we explained:

%If it seemed clear to the Court in 1861, facing the looming shadow of a Civil War, that `the Federal Government, under the Constitution, has no power to impose on a State officer, as such, any duty whatever, and compel him to perform it,' 24 How., at 107, basic constitutional principles now point as clearly the other way." Id., at 227.

%Kentucky v. Dennison is the product of another time. The conception of the relation between the States and the Federal Government there announced is fundamentally incompatible with more than a century of constitutional development. Yet this decision has stood while the world of which it was a part has passed away. We conclude that it may stand no longer." Id., at 230.

31 As the discussion above suggests, the Clause's mention of judges was almost certainly meant as nothing more than a choice of law rule, informing the state courts that they were to apply federal law in the event of a conflict with state authority. The majority's quotation of this language, ante, at 30, is quite misleading because it omits a crucial phrase that follows the mention of state judges. In its entirety, the Supremacy Clause reads: "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding." Art. VI, cl. 2 (emphasis added). The omitted language, in my view, makes clear that the specific reference to judges was designed to do nothing more than state a choice of law principle. The fact that our earliest opinions in this area, see Testa; Second Employers' Liability Cases, written at a time when the question was far more hotly contested than it is today, did not rely upon that language lends considerable support to this reading.

32 The Court's suggestion that these officials ought to be treated as "judges" for constitutional purposes because that is, functionally, what they are, is divorced from the constitutional text upon whichthe majority relies, which refers quite explicitly to "Judges" and not administrative officials. In addition, it directly contradicts the majority's position that early statutes requiring state courts to perform executive functions are irrelevant to our assessment of the original understanding because "Judges" were at issue. In short, the majority's adoption of a proper functional analysis gives away important ground elsewhere without shoring up its argument here.

33 Indeed, presuming that the majority has correctly read the Supremacy Clause, it is far more likely that the founders had a special respect for the independence of judges, and so thought it particularly important to emphasize that state judges were bound to apply federal law. The Framers would hardly have felt any equivalent need to state the then well accepted point, see supra, at 8-10, that the enlistment of state executive officials was entirely proper.