Supreme Court: individuals may challenge federal law for violating states' rights

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] Thursday ruled in Bond v. United States [Cornell LII Backgrounder; oral arguments transcript; JURIST report] that a private individual can challenge whether a federal criminal law passed to implement an international treaty is valid under the Tenth Amendment [text]. Carol Anne Bond was charged with burning her husband's mistress using poisonous chemicals and was indicted under a federal law [18 USC § 229(a) text] created to stop the distribution and use of chemical weapons passed by Congress to comply with the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention [UN backgrounder]. After losing on a motion to dismiss the charges on grounds that the law violated the Tenth Amendment, Bond entered a conditional guilty plea and renewed her claim on the same grounds. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled that Bond lacked standing [opinion, PDF] to challenge the constitutionality of the statute on the basis of the Tenth Amendment because she was an individual acting on her own and not with a state, relying on Tennessee Elec. Power Company v. TVA. However, the 9-0 Supreme Court opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy disagreed, holding that Bond has standing to challenge whether the federal law interferes with the powers left only to the states. The court said:

to argue that the National Government has interfered with state sovereignty in violation of the Tenth Amendment is to assert the legal rights and interests of States and States alone. That, however, is not so. ... Bond seeks to vindicate her own constitutional interests. The individual, in a proper case, can assert injury from governmental action taken in excess of the authority that federalism defines. Her rights in this regard do not belong to a State.
The government initially argued that Bond did not have standing to sue on Tenth Amendment grounds but informed the court that it had changed its position. Instead, the government argued [Brief for Peitioner, PDF] that Bond only had standing to challenge whether a federal law "interferes with a specific aspect of state sovereignty" but not whether Congress by passing the law had exceeded its enumerated powers. But the Court said this argument was flawed because:
the principles 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, and action that exceeds the National Government's enumerated powers undermines the sovereign interests of States.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concurred, joined by Stephen Breyer, arguing that Bond had standing because "Bond, like any other defendant, has a personal right not to be convicted under a constitutionally invalid law." The ruling in this case may also affect Congress's authority to pass laws implementing treaties passed by the President.

 

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