Monday, August 22, 2005

Animal House and Federalism

For aficionados of one of the finest movies ever made, you know that the Deltas extracted their revenge on Dean Wormer and Faber College in the annual homecoming parade, involving such traditional college hijinks as assault with a deadly weapon, mayhem, and the like.  It's not just in the movies that such fun among the Greek set takes place.  The Second Circuit recently affirmed a conviction in United States v. Logan (here) involving a member of Delta Kappa Beta -- yes, known as the Deltas -- who lost their house to a hated rival, Pi Kappa Phi (the Kappas, of course), at SUNY Cortland.  As the opinion notes with perhaps a bit of irony: "The Deltas were not model tenants: they caused structural and interior damage to the house, failed to keep the premises clean, and did not pay the utility bills they incurred. The Deltas also failed to pay the rent agreed upon in the lease, and were responsible for the cancellation of the insurance on the building."  I suspect they were on double secret probation, too.  When the Kappas took over the house, the Deltas threatened to burn it down and, on Aug. 11, 2001, a group of frat brothers entered the house, doused the furniture with gasoline, and torched the Kappas new house.  Luckily for the Deltas, a Kappa sleeping in the house escaped the fire, so all they were charged with was arson under 18 U.S.C Sec. 844(n) and conspiracy, not felony-murder.  Logan was convicted on the conspiracy charge.

On appeal, Logan challenged the conviction on federalism grounds, arguing that the Supreme Court's decision in Jones v. United States, 529 U.S. 848 (2000), applying a federalism limitation to the scope of the arson statute made the earlier decision in Russell v. United States, 471 U.S. 858 (1985), obsolete when the arson involves a single house.  Russell held that an arson of a rental unit necessarily affects interstate commerce, while the house in Jones was an owner-occupied property and therefore outside the scope of Congressional authority under the Commerce Clause.  The Second Circuit rejected Logan's argument, noting that the Court distinguished Russell in Jones, and "even if we had reason to believe that Russell's holding is questionable in light of Morrison and Lopez, it has not been expressly overruled by the Supreme Court. Courts of Appeals are therefore obligated to follow Russell until the Supreme Court itself sees fit to reconsider that decision." 

As Dean Wormer said so well, "I hate those guys." (ph)

Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions | Permalink

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