US Supreme Court rules in favor of Congress delegating legislative power
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US Supreme Court rules in favor of Congress delegating legislative power

The Supreme Court held on Thursday that Congress did not transgress the nondelegation doctrine by allowing the Attorney General to decide how the registration requirements of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) should apply to individuals convicted prior to the statute’s enactment. Justice Kagan announced the judgment of the court and was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor and Justice Alito concurred.

At issue in Gundy v. US was whether §20913(d) of SORNA unconstitutionally delegated Congress’s legislative power to the Attorney General by allowing the office to prescribe the rules for registration of pre-SORNA offenders. The majority opinion states that a statutory delegation is constitutional so long as Congress “lays down by legislative act an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to [exercise the delegated authority] is directed to conform.”

Justice Kagan goes on to explain that,

The attorney general’s role under §20913(d) was important but limited: It was to apply SORNA to pre-Act offenders as soon as he thought it feasible to do so … Congress had made clear in SORNA’s text that the new registration requirements would apply to pre-Act offenders. So ‘there was no need’ for Congress to worry about the ‘unrealistic possibility’ that ‘the attorney general would refuse to apply’ those requirements on some excessively broad view of his authority under §20913(d).

The court concluded that “reasonably read, SORNA enabled the Attorney General only to address (as appropriate) the “practical problems” involving pre-Act offenders before requiring them to register.”

Justice Alito concurred with the majority, stating that “because I cannot say that the statute lacks a discernable standard that is adequate under the nondelegation approach this Court has taken for many years, I vote to affirm.”

Whereas the dissent argued that the breadth of authority that Congress granted to the Attorney General is too vast. Under this interpretation, the exercise of authority by the Attorney General in requiring all pre-Act offenders to register would be unconstitutional.