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December 4th, 2009 1:29 pm
A Solicitor General and the Constitution
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U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan seeks to destroy the fundamental principle that “[the] Constitution creates a Federal Government of enumerated powers”, judging by her brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case of U.S. v. Comstock.  The government’s brief demonstrates just how expansive she views federal power under the Constitution.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank in Washington, D.C., is challenging a federal criminal statute on the grounds that Congress acted without constitutional authority when it passed the law.

Cato and other challengers in Comstock argue that the federal government cannot use the Necessary and Proper Clause in Article 1 §8 of the Constitution to justify any and all federal action.   The government, on the other hand, argues that the Necessary and Proper Clause and the Commerce Clause in §8 allow the government to enact a range of federal criminal statutes, even if such laws are typically the province of state power.

Of course, by the government’s logic, if the Commerce Clause works to authorize a broad array of criminal laws, then what can’t the government do?  Since the government deems almost any human action to “substantially affect interstate commerce,” then there is nothing that evades federal power.  For example, in this argument audio clip, the government claims federal power is virtually limitless.

The Supreme Court has (unfortunately) already held that growing excess wheat for private consumption falls within the Commerce Clause, and that growing marijuana for private consumption falls within the federal purview as well. (Justices Scalia and Kennedy sided with the government in the latter case.)

As the Cato Institute argued in its brief, “Neither the Necessary and Proper Clause nor the Commerce Clause is a permissible footing for the Act and, therefore, the Act is unconstitutional.  As this Court recognized almost 150 years ago, ‘[no] graver question was ever considered by this court, nor one which more nearly concerns the rights of the whole,’ than the Government’s unconstitutional assertion of power against its own citizens.”

Elena Kagan, in the government’s reply brief, countered, “A commitment under Section 4248 [the act in question] is justified by the Necessary and Proper Clause in combination with whatever enumerated power or powers supported the federal prosecution and custody of the individual in the first instance.”

By June of next year, we’ll learn if the Court would prefer returning to “first principles.”  It could actually limit Congress’ expansive use of Article I § 8, or the justices could continue to allow unbridled federal action whenever the government deems it politically expedient.

Click here for the Cato brief.  For the government’s brief, click here.  For CFIF on the Constitution, click here.

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