Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Tenth Amendment, Standing, and Criminal Conviction: Bond v. US Opinion

In a unanimous opinion the Court reversed the Third Circuit and held that a defendant has standing to raise a Tenth Amendment claim. 

The case involves the criminal conviction of Carol Anne Bond for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 229(a), enacted by Congress to implement the United States’ treaty obligations under an international arms-control agreement that prohibits nation-states from producing, stockpiling, or using chemical weapons. Bond, a biologist, used her expertise to spread injurious chemicals on the property of her former best friend, after learning that the friend was pregnant by Bond’s husband.   Although Bond was prosecuted in state court, she continued her campaign against her former friend and she was eventually prosecuted in federal court. 

As we noted in our discussion of the oral argument, this is no ordinary criminal appeal is evinced by the appearance of  Michael R. Dreedben, as Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, "on behalf of the Respondent, in support of the Petitioner.”   If this is a case in which even the United States - - - who after all, prosecuted Ms. Bond - - - agrees with the defendant, then why is this case in the United States Supreme Court?  The problem is the Third Circuit opinion, which held that Bond does not have standing to raise a Tenth Amendment challenge to the statute and the split amongst the circuits of the issue.  The third Circuit stated it was “persuaded by the reasoning advanced by the majority of our sister courts and conclude that a private party lacks standing to claim that the federal Government is impinging on state sovereignty in violation of the Tenth Amendment, absent the involvement of a state or its officers as a party or parties.”

The standing rules at issue - - - the prudential rules rather than the Article III standing rules - - - are distilled in a single sentence from Tennessee Elec. Power Co. v. TVA, 306 U. S. 118 (1939): "“As we have seen there is no objection to the Authority’s operations by the states, and, if this were not so,the appellants, absent the states or their officers, have no standing in this suit to raise any question underthe amendment.”   Id. at 144.   In Bond, the Court states that the "sentence from Tennessee Electric that we have quoted and discussed should be deemed neither controlling nor instructive on the issue of standing as that term is now defined and applied."

The Court further notes:

There is no basis to support the Government’s proposed distinction between different federalism arguments for purposes of prudential standing rules. The princi-ples of limited national powers and state sovereignty are intertwined. While neither originates in the Tenth Amendment, both are expressed by it. Impermissible interference with state sovereignty is not within the enumerated powers of the National Government, see New York, 505 U. S., at 155–159, and action that exceeds the National Government’s enumerated powers undermines the sovereign interests of States. See United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 564 (1995). The unconstitutional action can cause concomitant injury to persons in individual cases.

Ginsburg wrote "separately to make the following observation. Bond, like any other defendant, has a personal right not to be convicted under a constitutionally invalid law."

As Supreme Court opinions go, this one is relatively brief.  It clarifies standing doctrine without changing the landscape.


Opinion Analysis, Standing, Supreme Court (US), Tenth Amendment | Permalink

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