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Federal SVP Commitment Scheme Valid Under Necessary and Proper Clause

U.S. v. Comstock, USSC No. 08-1224, 5/17/10

The federal scheme for detaining the equivalent of ch. 980 sexually violent persons beyond release date from federal prison, 18 U.S.C. § 1848, is a valid exercise of Congressional authority under the Necessary and Proper clause. In reaching this conclusion, the Court “assume(s), but we do not decide, that other provisions of the Constitution—such as the Due Process Clause—do not prohibit civil commitment in these circumstances.” Some highlights:

Second, the civil-commitment statute before us constitutes a modest addition to a set of federal prison-related mental-health statutes that have existed for many decades. …

Here, Congress has long been involved in the delivery of mental health care to federal prisoners, and has long provided for their civil commitment. …

… Aside from its specific focus on sexually dangerous persons, §4248 is similar to the provisions first enacted in 1949. Cf. §4246.In that respect, it is a modest addition to a longstanding federal statutory framework, which has been in place since 1855.

Third,  … If a federal prisoner is infected with a communicable disease that threatens others, surely it would be “necessary and proper” for the Federal Government to take action, pursuant to its role as federal custodian, to refuse (at least until the threat diminishes) to release that individual among the general public, where he might infect others (even if not threatening an inter-state epidemic, cf. Art. I, §8, cl. 3). And if confinement of such an individual is a “necessary and proper” thing to do, then how could it not be similarly “necessary and proper” to confine an individual whose mental illness threatens others to the same degree?

Yeah, a communicable disease is exactly the same as a made-up “mental illness.” Just call the scheme what it is, preventive detention; now, that would be the “necessary and proper” thing to do.

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