Bypassing the Constitution

Bypassing the Constitution
The Constitution represents an occasional inconvenience for those who fear firearms, like to indulge snooping and want the watch the federal government give the states a hard time. Though big-government advocates do many of these things already, they dream of more. Treaties are the latest gimmick to bypass the limits on federal power, and the U.S. Supreme Court will listen to arguments Tuesday about whether the practice can continue.

The justices won’t have a weighty case of nation against nation or even a state against federal power. The challenge derives from a garden-variety lovers’ quarrel that drove one Carol Bond to try to kill a rival for her husband’s affections. Mrs. Bond conditionally pleaded guilty in 2007 to a botched attempt to poison her husband’s mistress. Fortunately, nobody died, and her rival suffered only a slightly singed thumb. Rather than prosecute Mrs. Bond under the local and state statutes, the federal lawyers decided to try her under the Chemical Weapons Implementation Act of 1998, a statute to implement an international arms control agreement to prohibit chemical warfare.

The case found its way to the Supreme Court when Mrs. Bond was told she couldn’t challenge the federal statute under which she was charged. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law was a valid exercise of the president’s treaty powers.

At stake is whether Congress has the ability to expand its domestic powers through the enactment of a treaty. The Department of Justice has taken the extraordinary position that signing a treaty expands the power of the government beyond the bounds of the Constitution.

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