02 June 2014

Law in Plain English: Bond v. United States

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogBond v. United States

Argument: Nov 5 2013 (Aud.)

Did you know? Bond v. United States is one of very
few cases that have been to the Supreme Court twice.

Background: Bond, an employee of the chemical manufacturer Rohm and Haas, learned that her friend Myrlinda Haynes was pregnant and that Bond's own husband was the baby's father. Bond stole chemicals from work and bought others over the Internet and then applied them to Haynes's mailbox, car door handles, and house doorknob. She was charged and convicted of violating the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998, which implements the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. The Third Circuit affirmed.

Issue: The questions before the Court are 1) whether 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; and (2) whether the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act can 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 ("If the treaty is valid there can be no dispute about the validity of the statute under Article I, § 8, as a necessary and proper means to execute the powers of the Government").

Holding: In a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 229 of the Act does not reach Bond's simple assault. The Court did not interpret the scope of the international weapons treaty at issue. State laws are sufficient to prosecute an assault like the one in this case. There is no indication in the federal law that Congress intended to abandon its traditional reluctance to define as a federal crime conduct controlled as criminal by the states.
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