Supreme Court Allows 10th Amendment Challenge to Chemical Weapons Conviction

On Thursday the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Carol Bond, a Pennsylvania microbiologist who took revenge on an ex-friend who had been impregnated by Bond's husband, can challenge her federal conviction on 10th Amendment grounds. After learning of her husband's affair, Bond spread caustic substances on her friend's mailbox, car door handle, and front doorknob, as a result of which the woman suffered a minor burn. But instead of being tried in state court on assault charges, Bond was convicted under a federal statute that makes it a felony to knowingly possess, for nonpeaceful purposes, a chemical that "can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans." Bond argued that the statute, which implemented the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, overstepped the federal government's authority, impinging on criminal matters that are traditionally the province of the states. In 2009 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit rejected her challenge, ruling that a defendant may not use the 10th Amendment to appeal a conviction. The Supreme Court overturned that decision and sent the case back to the 3rd Circuit, instructing it to address the 10th Amendment issue.

Writing for the Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected the 3rd Circuit's conclusion that "to argue that the National Government has interfered with state sovereignty in violation of the Tenth Amendment is to assert the legal rights and interests of States and States alone." To the contrary, he said, "Bond seeks to vindicate her own constitutional interests," claiming "injury from governmental action taken in excess of the authority that federalism defines." Kennedy also emphasized the importance of the federalist principles at stake:

The federal system rests on what might at first seem a counterintuitive insight, that "freedom is enhanced by the creation of two governments, not one."...The Framers concluded that allocation of powers between the National Government and the States enhances freedom, first by protecting the integrity of the governments themselves, and second by protecting the people, from whom all governmental powers are derived.

Federalism has more than one dynamic. It is true that the federal structure serves to grant and delimit the prerogatives and responsibilities of the States and the National Government vis-à-vis one another. The allocation of powers in our federal system preserves the integrity, dignity, and residual sovereignty of the States. The federal balance is, in part, an end in itself, to ensure that States function as political entities in their own right.

But that is not its exclusive sphere of operation. Federalism is more than an exercise in setting the boundary between different institutions of government for their own integrity. "State sovereignty is not just an end in itself: 'Rather, federalism secures to citizens the liberties that derive from the diffusion of sovereign power.' "

Previous coverage of the case here and here. SCOTUSblog's rundown here. The last time the Supreme Court dealt with the 10th Amendment, it approved post-sentence commitment of "sexually dangerous" prisoners as a legitimate federal function. That case involved people who had already been convicted under federal laws whose constitutionality was not at issue, while this case presents the question of whether fighting terrorism and the proliferation of chemical weapons gives Congress license to make a federal case out of a domestic spat.

Addendum: The Goldwater Institute's Darcy Olsen calls Bond. v. U.S. "one of the best and most important decisions ever on federalism," since it establishes that "individuals have standing to challenge federal laws as violations of state sovereignty under the 10th Amendment."

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  • 10th Amendment||

    I'm not quite dead yet.

  • Sinic||

    No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment.

  • Sinic||

    No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment.

  • Joshua||

    "residual sovereignty"

    It's only a matter of time...

  • Sinic||

    a chemical that "can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans."

    the woman suffered a minor burn

    It must have been one hell of a minor burn.

  • SIV||

    Water is a chemical that can cause death, temporary incapacitation, or permanent harm to humans.

  • Rich||

    a felony to knowingly possess, for nonpeaceful purposes, a chemical that "can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans."

    With all due respect, this is as bad as hate crime laws. "Possession of X" might be a felony, period.

  • Brett L||

    Bleach, acetic acid, etc.

  • ||

    "Possession for nonpeaceful purposes" sounds like it gives anyone an easy out. Possess something for a legitimate purpose, such as cleaning tile floors, and you have chemicals that you can later use to kick some ass.

    "I didn't possess it for nonpeaceful purposes, your honor. I possessed it for that sparkly shine we're all looking for. Unlucky for my pesky neighbor it also ripped his musous membranes to shreds when his gator bait yelper pissed on my rims for the umpteenth."

  • ||

    Isn't a water balloon propped above a door a nonpeaceful purpose?

  • cynical||

    Only if your own side suffers casualties.

  • Joe M||

    It's called thoughtcrime.

  • ||

    This law sounds like it would encompass pepper spray.

  • ||

    a ridiculously overbroad federal law? i am shocked. shocked i tell ya!

  • ||

    Thanks for ruining the entire chain of "dihydrogen monoxide" jokes I was about to start.

    You're off the cocktail party invite list for at least 3 months for this outburst.

  • ||

    Standing is probably the biggest single obstacle to enforcing Constitutional limitations on government in the courts.

    Nice for the SCOTUS to get one right. This could potentially be a huge decision, but like the supposed "new jurisprudence" on the limits of the Commerce Clause, I'll be surprised if it turns out to be anything more than an aberration.

  • Jerry||

    Why has nobody tried a 10th amendment challenge to the federal drug laws?

  • JD||

    Those have already been ruled to be a proper use of federal power under the Commerce Clause, so a 10th Amendment challenge would be close to impossible. The state of Commerce Clause jurisprudence in the post-[I]Raich[/I] era is such that I'm not overly optimistic about the impact of this decision.

  • JD||

    Fucking HTML.

  • Mensan||

    It's not the HTML's fault that you don't know how to use it.

  • JD||

    It's not its fault I didn't preview either, but that doesn't stop me from blaming anyone but myself.

  • hazeeran||

    I'm glad Kennedy is remembering the 10th amendment these days, since they will probably rule on the health care law soon. Extra thought: the states haven't been sovereign since the civil war, since they weren't free to leave.

  • OO||

    they werent free to leave BEFORE the civil war either

  • ||

    The allocation of powers in our federal system preserves the integrity, dignity, and residual sovereignty of the States....Rather, federalism secures to citizens the liberties that derive from the diffusion of sovereign power

    This is some really disingenuous bullshit. Federalism didn't protect anyone's integrity or dignity or secure any liberty in Kelo.

  • ||

    D'oh.... I mean Raich.

  • ||

    The allocation of powers in our federal system was intended topreserves the integrity, dignity, and residual sovereignty of the States. However, through an appalling dereliction of its duty over the past 70 years, the Supreme Court has enabled the destruction of federalism on by allowing the unchecked growth of national power by de facto amendments to Article 1, Section 8.

    Better?

  • ||

    Yes. Much better.

  • Mensan||

    Worse, actually; but more accurate

  • ||

    A unanimous decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes . A good decision. IMHO, class actions suits are more about a small group of lawyers making big bucks than asserting and protecting rights of litigants.

  • ||

    Actually, it was 5-4 along just the lines you'd imagine.

  • ||

    Actually, this is kinda interesting from a media studies perspective. I think all 9 justices rejected class certification, but only 5 agreed on the specific basis for denial. Conservatives are calling this a "unanimous ruling" whereas liberals are calling it "a court sharply divided along ideological lines."

  • ||

    Ah, that accounts for the contradictory headlines.

  • ||

    So SCOTUS rulings amount to: You have the right to challenge the federal government in court on 10th amendment grounds. However, if the feds can pull any excuse at all out of their ass, for doing whatever the fuck they want, that's cool with us.

  • ||

    Oh unless it's guns. Cause we like guns now... And assisted suicide... Anything that kills really... But not drugs... err yeah.

  • ||

    They found out drugs aren't really killers. If they were, they, too, would be OK.

  • ||

    SEE? States' Rights is nothing less than institutionalized murder. And SLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAVERY!

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    "freedom is enhanced by the creation of two governments, not one."...

    Why is "zero" never an option?

  • SIV||

    Because people feel good about themselves when they vote for the Black guy.

  • ||

    Because nature whores a vacuum.

  • juris imprudent||

    Applied for your visa to Somalia?

  • Joshua||

    The roman's didn't even have a numeral for zero. It's not surprising most people can't count that low.

  • MNG||

    This is a good thing, facing the power of the state agains them the accused in this country needs all the arrows in their quiver they can get.

  • ||

    Why is "zero" never an option?

    Cannibalism, incest, rape, pillage, extortion, toll roads, et c; all the stuff libertarians want.

  • alan||

    We're just trying to bring sexy back, and all we get is grief for it. Enough to mist up my monocle.

  • Mensan||

    Why include cannibalism? Is there something inherently immoral about cannibalism? Obviously, it would be wrong to murder somebody; but if they were to die in an accident, would it be wrong to eat them (e.g the Uruguayan rugby team)?

  • ||

    "to argue that the National Government has interfered with state sovereignty in violation of the Tenth Amendment is to assert the legal rights and interests of States and States alone."

    Maybe the 3rd circuit's copy of the Tenth Amendment got the end cut off. Mine reads:

    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.

  • ||

    WTF?!?!

    Why not simply charge her with assault with a deadly weapon?

  • alan||

    Are you kidding? Why don't you just cut off free Viagra for DHS employees while you are at it. Take away their soda pop machines in the break room. Make them use a pre-Flash enabled version of Internet Explorer so they can't play Angry Birds at work all day. Take away their absurd abuses of power? Why do you hate them so much?

  • ||

    how about criminal mischief? I don't know about a specific crime for setting a trap so to speak.

  • Max Stirner||

    I have no idea why chemicals are much more frowned upon than guns in court. Probably to discourage gangs from using nerve gas instead assault rifles.

  • Brett L||

    Pretty sure violations of the Geneva Conventions are illegal.

  • dummy||

    sounds like the health care law might be toast, which means the whole thing should come apart. From an aerial view, the health care law imposes massive costs on states that choose individual opportunity over collective goals. So the problem probably isn't the individual mandate, but the fact that the law sets up a situation that really is just like the original tea party. Good stuff and some hope for the future.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    They didn't say the law was unconstitutional, just that the gal can challenge it in court. The 3rd Circuit is supposed to hold a hearing. The point here is that if you claim that the feds are unconstitutionally oppressing you in violation of the 10th Amendment, then you can complain about it even if your state doesn't. This makes sense, since people have the right to complain if they think they've been treated illegally. Also, the 10th Amendment isn't simply about protecting state governments, but about promoting liberty, as Kennedy explains.

  • dummy||

    I think, based upon his explanation of Federalism, that he would swing against the health care law. Just a hunch thats all.

  • J. Wesley Leckrone||

    I think this decision may help reinvigorate the concept of the structure of American government being the greatest bulwark of freedom. See my blogpost: http://wp.me/p1cCQg-2t

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