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Bond v. United States, USSC No. 12-158, cert granted 1/18/13

Questions Presented:

1. Do the Constitution’s structural limits on federal authority impose any constraints on the scope of Congress’ authority to enact legislation to implement a valid treaty, at least in circumstances where the federal statute, as applied, goes far beyond the scope of the treaty, intrudes on traditional state prerogatives, and is concededly unnecessary to satisfy the government’s treaty obligations?

2. Can the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 229, be interpreted not to reach ordinary poisoning cases, which have been adequately handled by state and local authorities since the Framing, in order to avoid the difficult constitutional questions involving the scope of and continuing vitality of this Court’s decision in Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920)?

Lower court opinion: United States v. Bond, 681 F.3d 149 (3rd Cir. 2012)


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This case presents an interesting, if esoteric, question: How far can Congress legislate in the course of implementing an international treaty without running afoul of the Tenth Amendment? The decision will have no impact on SPD-related cases because it involves the power of Congress to create crimes. Lawyers defending federal criminal cases in Wisconsin, however, might have to deal with a crime created by legislation implementing a treaty.

For those interested in more background, the facts are these: Bond learned that her friend Haynes was pregnant and that Bond’s own husband was the father. To exact revenge, Bond acquired highly toxic chemicals and applied those chemicals to Haynes’s mailbox, car door handles, and house doorknob. Bond was convicted of violating a provision of the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998, which implements the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Bond challenged her conviction on Tenth Amendment grounds, but the court of appeals rejected her argument based on Missouri v. Holland, which states that “if [a] treaty is valid there can be no dispute about the validity of the statute [implementing that treaty] under Article 1, Section 8, as a necessary and proper means to execute the powers of the Government.”

The decision will tell us more about the Court’s evolving approach to congressional power, as Holland has been taken to mean that if a treaty commits the United States to enact some legislation, then Congress has the power to enact that legislation, even if it would lack such power under the Constitution in the absence of the treaty. At its logical extreme, Holland implies the legislative powers of Congress may be expanded by treaty, virtually without limit. The meaning of Holland has become more important, for we are making more commitments under international law at the same time the Supreme Court has been more willing to limit Congress to its enumerated powers. That’s lead some to claim the treaty power may be used to evade the limits that the Court has established. Thus, this case may set new limits on Congress when it is legislating to implement a treaty.

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