How Federalism Protects Individual Rights


At the new Library of Law and Liberty website, George Mason University law professor (and Reason contributor) Ilya Somin looks at the Supreme Court's recent 10th Amendment ruling in Bond v. U.S., which "focuses attention on the ways in which limits on federal government power really do promote individual liberty." He writes:

Bond arose out of a tragic domestic situation. Philadelphia resident Carol Anne Bond discovered that a close friend of hers was pregnant, and that Bond's husband was the father. In an effort to get revenge on this woman, Bond allegedly placed dangerous chemicals in areas the other woman was likely to touch, with the result that the latter got a burn on her hand. Prosecutors charged Bond with violating a federal law that forbids the use of chemicals that can cause death or serious injury to persons or animals, except for a "peaceful purpose." Bond's lawyers contended that this law is unconstitutional because it violates the Tenth Amendment, which holds that "the powers not delegated" to the federal government by "the Constitution" are "reserved to the States… or to the people." Only states, Bond argued, have the authority to regulate criminal behavior of this type.

The federal government claimed that Bond is not allowed to raise this argument because the Tenth Amendment's constraints on the scope of congressional power are intended to protect state governments, not individual citizens. The Supreme Court, as we have seen, decided otherwise because federalism protects individual freedom as well as state sovereignty.

Read the whole thing here. For a look at some of the ways that liberal activists have been using federalism to push a progressive agenda, go here.

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  1. So booby traps are not covered under pennsylvania laws?

    Its cases like this that make our government look stupid, because congress enacts laws completely arbitrarily and then spends endless time whining about the judiciary system that sees through them occasionally.

  2. If it weren’t for federalism, I could not chemically burn my pregnant neighbor?

    I know that’s not what Ilya is writing but maybe this case is not the best example to use for extolling federalism’s virtues.

    1. nobody is saying you can chemically burn anybody. this case simply says the federal law used here was improper

      there are adequate state laws to cover this shit

  3. Yeah, how the heck was that case not covered by just regular old assault? It seems so weird it ended up being some referendum on federalism.

    1. Pennsylvania is clearly run by libertarians. Burning your neighbor chemically is something libertarians want you to be able to do. Provided that your neighbor is poor. And a grandmother and/or child. Libertarians think it is okay for you to burn your neighbor, who is a poor, elderly child, with chemicals.

      1. Pennsylvania is clearly run by libertarians.

        Which is why the Harrisburg Soviet has ruled that liquor prices will rise this year.

        1. Ha! we got rid of our state liquor control board. Or, at least until the Unions win their lawsuit and have it reinstated.

  4. But what did they name the baby?

    1. Koh, short for caustic potash.

  5. Burn someone with chemicals:

    “The federal government has exceeded its authority, you may go free!”

    Smoke a joint:


    1. Yeah, that’s weird. Total bans are consitutionally dandy, but laws against misuse are not. Huh.

  6. another perfect example of process analysis

    thanks SCOTUS!

  7. Wait, I’m confused. Woman hurts another, Feds bust said woman, SCOTUS finds her not guilty. And this is supposed to be a point for individual liberty – the right to hurt others with chemicals without federal meddling?

    Look, I agree that such decisions should be left to the states, for many reasons – they are more accountable and have ways of dealing with violations like this. The linked article explains pretty well the merits of federalism, as well. What I don’t understand is how this decision in any way illuminates those merits (and therefore had to be quoted). On the face of it, it just looks like a vindictive and guilty woman won a major court case.

    1. SCOTUS did NOT find her not guilty.

      they made no determination of guilt. read it again

      1. They said the woman has the right to argue the 10th Amendment – they didn’t say she’d win the argument.

        The lower court said she didn’t even have the right to make the argument because federal obedience to the Tenth Amendment was no concern of hers – only the states had any interest in the Tenth being enforced.

        The SCOTUS decision was to overrule this, sending the woman back to the lower courts to argue about whether this particular law violates the Tenth.

  8. Wait what? Why the fuck was this case even IN a federal court? Pretty sure burning your neighbor with chemicals is totally and adequately covered by the state laws of all 50 states.

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