Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Sex Offender Civil Commitment Law
How can a law allow the feds to continue to imprison an inmate after his sentence is up? That's what sex offender civil commitment laws allow. The Supreme Court held oral arguments today on a challenge to Section 4248 of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.
The law applies to any federal detainee, including inmates who are about to complete their entire prison terms and regardless of whether the suspected future act is a federal crime....Lawyers are challenging the law as a violation of due process. In addition, they argue that Congress exceeded the limits of its federal authority by attempting to prevent sex crimes.
...The key question before the high court is whether congressional authority to enact legislation is broad enough to encompass prevention of future sex crimes.
In the courts below:
A federal judge in North Carolina and the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond have ruled that Section 4248 violates principles of federalism and the structure of government as laid down in the Constitution.
“The power claimed by Section 4248 – forcible, indefinite civil commitment – is among the most severe wielded by any government,” the Fourth Circuit declared in a January 2009 decision. “The Framers, distrustful of such authority, reposed such broad powers in the states, limiting the national government to specific and enumerated powers.”
The Government is arguing:
Solicitor General Elena Kagan says Congress may pass laws related to the federal criminal justice and penal system. She says Section 4248 is a “necessary and proper” use of federal power to protect the public.
60 inmates are being held in North Carolina under the law. An example:
Mr. Comstock was sentenced to three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography. Six days before his scheduled release from prison, federal authorities moved to have him certified as a “sexually dangerous person.” To date, Comstock has spent six years in federal custody.
Update: A Scalia snippet:
JUSTICE SCALIA: General Kagan, you are relying on the Necessary and Proper Clause, right? You say: But necessary and proper doesn't mean it is necessary and proper for the good of society. It means it is necessary and proper for the execution of another power that the Federal Government is given by the Constitution. Now why is this necessary for the execution of any Federal power? The Federal criminal proceeding has terminated. The individual is released. You could say it's necessary for the good of society, but that's not what the Federal Government is charged with. Why is it necessary to any function that the Federal Government is performing? It has completed its performance of the function of incarcerating this individual until he's served his punishment.
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