One of the big Supreme Court decisions due soon has flown under the radar, unless you’re a scholar, even though it’s based on a love triangle that could redefine some constitutional history.
The case of Bond v. the United States is centered on a TV-friendly story from suburban Philadelphia, when a woman found out her husband got her best friend pregnant – and took matters into her own hands.
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The Bond decision could be made public as soon as next week. The Court has already announced most decisions in arguments it heard last fall, and regardless the outcome, the Bond decision will have legal tongues wagging.
The big picture issue in the Bond case is the possible fate of a landmark 1920 Supreme Court decision: Missouri v. Holland. The Holland decision gave Congress the power to pass laws to carry out the U.S. government’s obligations under international treaties.
How the Bond case got to the Supreme Court, twice, is a saga in itself. Carol Anne Bond of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, according to court documents, discovered in 2006 that her best friend was pregnant and Bond’s husband was the father of the child. Bond herself was unable to have children.
An upset Bond worked at a local chemical company, and she ordered more chemicals from Amazon.com, created an irritating (and potentially lethal) bright orange chemical cocktail, and spread it on objects at her friend’s house.
Local authorities didn’t pursue the matter at first, but when the woman complained to the Postal Service, after her mailbox was tainted with the substance, the Service used a camera to determine Bond was the culprit.
Bond was arrested the surveillance video confirmed her friend’s suspicions.
Bond was charged by the feds under the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998, which is linked to an international treaty, and not under prevailing local laws. Bond’s lawyers argued the decision violated the 10th amendment and Bond should have faced local charges in the state of Pennsylvania, which were much less harsh than the federal charges.
Bond’s lawyers lost that challenge, she went to trial, and she was convicted in 2007 Bond was sentenced to six years in prison, plus five years of supervised release.
The Bond case first appeared before the Supreme Court in 2011, when the Court agreed with Bond’s defense that she could contest the lower court’s decision as an individual under the 10th Amendment.
However, when the case was returned to a lower court, Bond lost and the judges cited the Holland decision as a factor. On appeal, the case is now in front of the Supreme Court for a second time.
The case is significant because it could lead to a redefinition of the powers of federalism and a possible rethinking of the Holland decision.
Constitution Daily contributor Lyle Denniston profiled the case for SCOTUSblog last November when it was argued in court.
“It is, indeed, difficult to imagine how this case can be decided without making history,” Denniston said. “A ruling in Bond’s favor, even on a narrow ground of reading her conduct as outside of the 1998 law, would have to be justified by some assessment of Congress’s authority to choose how it implements treaties, and some assessment of Congress’s obligation to show considerable respect for state sovereignty.”
In front of the Justices were two legal heavyweights: Paul Clement and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., and during arguments, some of the Justices openly questioned the federal government’s broader powers to negotiate or implement global treaties.
For now, how the Justices will weigh the case is unknown. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the first Bond case in 2011. While the Justices made colorful, and sometimes humorous, hypothetical arguments last November when they quizzed Clement and Verrilli, the case’s outcome could have a serious long-term impact on the Constitution.
Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.
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