Number of Americans Calling for Unconstitutional "Caylee's Law" Increasing All the Time [Updated]

Kevin Underhill
Number of Americans Calling for Unconstitutional "Caylee's Law" Increasing All the Time

According to, an online-petition site, a quarter of a million hundreds of thousands of Americans signed a petition calling for a federal law that would make it a felony for a parent to fail to report a child's death or disappearance within a specified period of time. 250,000 people signed in the first 36 hours, an average of almost two per second.

First, I have no real problem with having a law like this, although it does seem like an overreaction to pass yet another law to address a situation that surely is extremely rare. I guess there is also my default reaction that any law that is named after a person should not be passed, just on principle.

More importantly, though, the petition as currently originally phrased makes no sense because Congress doesn't have the power to create a federal law that punishes parents for negligent child care.

I know certain provisions of the Constitution are considered "quaint" these days, like the Fourth Amendment, but technically it is still the case that Article I, Section 8, lists particular things that Congress has the power to do, and those are the only powers it has, and regulating child care is not among them. It is supposed to have the power to declare war - that's probably another one of the quaint ones - but I don't see anything here about child-absence-reporting.

If parents are buying and selling children and transporting them across state lines to do it, maybe the Commerce Clause applies? No? (Laurence Tribe says no, if you need a second opinion from an actual constitutional scholar.)

Of course, there is no reason that this couldn't be viewed as support for the passage of state laws imposing the same requirement, and not surprisingly the latest press release emphasizes that issue (at least three versions of a "Caylee's Law" are apparently in the works in Florida). I have no problem with that, except for the manipulative naming thing. I just like to take certain opportunities to point out things that the Constitution says and doesn't say.

Update: the petition has since been amended to remove the reference to federal law, so that objection is no longer valid. I still think it is not a great idea to pass new laws to address such specific facts, let alone to do so rapidly and based largely on emotion rather than fully considering the policy at issue, because these can have unintended consequences that mostly affect the innocent. (After all, the one person to whom we know a new "Caylee's Law" would not apply is Casey Anthony.) But that's not a constitutional issue, or at least not the one discussed above.