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On May 15, 2000, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Writing on behalf of a majority of five, concluded in United States v. Morrison that Congress had no power either under the Commerce Clause or the Fourteenth Amendment to enact a civil rights remedy that permitted victims of violence, targeted because of their gender, to bring lawsuits in federal or state courts for damages against their attackers. The Court thus held unconstitutional one facet of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

But May 15, 2000 was not the first time that the Chief Justice had spoken out against the civil rights provisions within VAWA. In 1991, as a draft of the statute was first pending, the Chief Justice cited it in his annual "State of the Judiciary" address. On that occasion, the "end of [his] fifth year as Chief Justice" and the year in which the "nation celebrated the Bicentennial of the Bill of Rights," Chief Justice Rehnquist announced that the time had come for reconsideration of the "future role of the federal courts." He complained that, despite the hard work and innovative efforts of the judicial branch, the federal judiciary was facing yet "more demanding and more complex tasks."

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