Supreme Court Reaffirms Tenth Amendment/Federalism Limitations on Federal Criminal Statutes in Bond v. U.S.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the Tenth Amendment and Federalism as a limitation on Federal statutes, in particular Federal criminal statutes, in the first significant case since U.S. v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549 (1995), Bond v. U.S., No. 09–1227, which may be read here. Bond is an encouraging development given the overwhelmingly predominant trend to presume Federal criminal statutes and their application to be ipso facto within Congress' authority.

Carol Anne Bond discovered that her close friend was pregnant by Bond's husband. Bond engaged in a campaign of harassment against the woman, which included placing caustic chemicals on objects which the woman was likely to touch. The woman received burns from the substances, and Bond was charged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania pursuant to 18 U.S.C. s 229, the Federal chemical weapon statute. She entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to 6 years' imprisonment. She reserved the right to challenge the constitutionality of the statute on appeal, and appealed, arguing that the Section 229 exceeded Congress' authority to enact under the Tenth Amendment which provides that "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. Amend. X.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied Bond's claims, holding that Bond lacked "standing" to object to the statute based upon the Tenth Amendment or Federalism (the division of powers between the Federal government and the States) because no State was involved in Bond's Federal prosecution. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and, in a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Kennedy,  held that where there is an otherwise justiciable case or controversy, a party may object that his or her injury results from violation of the Federal system of government. The Court held that although the States are also beneficiaries of Federalism, Federalism also serves to enhance individual freedom by “‘secur[ing] to citizens the liberties that derive from the diffusion of sovereign power,’” (Quoting New York v. United States, 505 U. S. 144, 181 (1992); quoting Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U. S. 722, 759 (1991) (Blackmun, J., dissenting)). The doctrine  protects the liberty of all persons within a State by ensuring that law enacted in excess of delegated governmental power cannot direct or control their actions. (Citing Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U. S. 452, 458 (1991)). Action exceeding the Federal government’s enumerated powers undermines the States’ sovereign interests. The Court remanded Bond's Tenth Amendment arguments for consideration on the merits.