The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the Obama Administration’s attempt to apply Federal terrorist charges to a case in which a jilted woman smeared some creepy substance on the door handle of her then-husband’s illicit lover.
The court ruled 9-0 today against the government in Bond v. United States, a case in which prosecutors successfully secured a conviction against the defendant, Carol Anne Bond, on the grounds that she violated the Chemical Weapons Implementation Act of 1998.
That Act makes it a Federal crime to own or use any chemical “weapon” and provides for Federal prosecution of such alleged cases.
Prosecutors had argued that Bond had violated Federal terror laws when, upon discovering that her best friend Myrlinda Haynes had gotten pregnant in an affair with Bond’s husband, she retaliated by intentionally applying toxins to things that Haynes might subsequently touch. The government literally wanted to make a Federal case out of her petty behavior.
Chief Justice John Roberts said a ruling in favor of the government’s interpretation of the Act would have “transform[ed] the statute from one whose core concerns are acts of war, assassination, and terrorism into a massive federal anti-poisoning regime that reaches the simplest of assaults.”
Which is exactly what the Obama Administration was hoping the Court would sanction.
Instead, Roberts highlighted the absurdity of expanding the Federal government’s authority to treat virtually any local matter as a Federal crime:
The question presented by this case is whether the Implementation Act also reaches a purely local crime: an amateur attempt by a jilted wife to injure her husband’s lover, which ended up causing only a minor thumb burn readily treated by rinsing with water. Because our constitutional structure leaves local criminal activity primarily to the States, we have generally declined to read federal law as intruding on that responsibility, unless Congress has clearly indicated that the law should have such reach. The Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act contains no such clear indication, and we accordingly conclude that it does not cover the unremarkable local offense at issue here.
Roberts, along with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, opined that Federal law does not apply to a case that is clearly local in its scope of intent.
Although Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito agreed with their colleagues that Bond’s conviction should be overturned, they carried the fallacy of the government’s position even further by indicating the law itself is unconstitutional. A literal reading of the Chemical Weapons Implementation Act, they argued, does suggest the law played the central role in the way in which Federal prosecutors presented their original case against Bond – and therefore should have been outright overturned on Constitutional grounds.