__ U.S. __ (2014), 12-158, Bond v. United States

Docket Nº:12-158
Citation:__ U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 2077, 189 L.Ed.2d 1, 82 U.S.L.W. 4417, 24 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 803
Opinion Judge:Roberts, Chief Justice.
Party Name:CAROL ANNE BOND, PETITIONER v. UNITED STATES
Attorney:Paul D. Clement argued the cause for petitioner. Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. argued the cause for respondent.
Judge Panel:Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined, and in which Alito, J., joined as to Part I. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring in ...
Case Date:June 02, 2014
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page __

__ U.S. __ (2014)

134 S.Ct. 2077, 189 L.Ed.2d 1, 82 U.S.L.W. 4417

CAROL ANNE BOND, PETITIONER

v.

UNITED STATES

No. 12-158

United States Supreme Court

June 2, 2014

Argued November 5, 2013.

[134 S.Ct. 2082] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

681 F.3d 149, reversed and remanded.

SYLLABUS

To implement the international Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, Congress enacted the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998. The statute forbids, among other things, any person knowingly to " possess[ ] or use . . . any chemical weapon," 18 U.S.C. § 229(a)(1). A " chemical weapon" is " [a] toxic chemical and its precursors, except where intended for a purpose not prohibited under this chapter." § 229F(1)(A). A " toxic chemical" is " any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals. The term includes all such chemicals, regardless of their origin or of their method of production, and regardless of whether they are produced in facilities, in munitions or elsewhere." § 229F(8)(A). " [P]urposes not prohibited by this chapter" is defined as " [a]ny peaceful purpose related to an industrial, agricultural, research, medical, or pharmaceutical activity or other activity," and other specific purposes. § 229F(7).

Petitioner Bond sought revenge against Myrlinda Haynes -- with whom her husband had carried on an affair -- by spreading two toxic chemicals on Haynes's car, mailbox, and door knob in hopes that Haynes would develop an uncomfortable rash. On one occasion Haynes suffered a minor chemical burn that she treated by rinsing with water, but Bond's attempted assaults were otherwise entirely unsuccessful. Federal prosecutors charged Bond with violating, among other things, section 229(a). Bond moved to dismiss the chemical weapons charges on the ground that the Act violates the Tenth Amendment. When the District Court denied her motion, she pleaded guilty but reserved the right to appeal. The Third Circuit initially held that Bond lacked standing to raise her Tenth Amendment challenge, but this Court reversed. On remand, the Third Circuit rejected her Tenth Amendment argument and her additional argument that section 229 does not reach her conduct.

Held : Section 229 does not reach Bond's simple assault. Pp. 8-21.

(a) The parties debate whether section 229 is a necessary and proper means of executing the Federal Government's power to make treaties, but " normally [this] Court will not decide a constitutional question if there is some other ground upon which to dispose of the case." Escambia County

v. McMillan, 466 U.S. 48, 51, 104 S.Ct. 1577, 80 L.Ed.2d 36 ( per curiam ). Thus, this Court starts with Bond's argument that section 229 does not cover her conduct. Pp. 8-9.

(b) This Court has no need to interpret the scope of the international Chemical Weapons Convention in this case. The treaty specifies that a signatory nation should implement its obligations " in accordance with its constitutional processes." Art. VII(1), 1974 U. N. T. S. 331. Bond was prosecuted under a federal statute, which, unlike the treaty, must be read consistent with the principles of federalism inherent in our constitutional structure. Pp. 10-21.

(1) A fair reading of section 229 must recognize the duty of " federal courts to be certain of Congress's intent before finding that federal law overrides" the " usual constitutional balance of federal and state powers," Gregory

v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 460, 111 S.Ct. 2395, 115 L.Ed.2d 410. This principle applies to federal laws that punish local criminal activity, which has traditionally been the responsibility of the States. This Court's precedents have referred to basic principles of federalism in the Constitution to resolve ambiguity in federal statutes. See, e.g., United States

v. Bass, 404 U.S. 336, 92 S.Ct. 515, 30 L.Ed.2d 488; Jones

v. United States, 529 U.S. 848, 120 S.Ct. 1904, 146 L.Ed.2d 902. Here, the ambiguity in the statute derives from the improbably broad reach of the key statutory definition, given the term -- " chemical weapon" -- that is being defined, the deeply serious consequences of adopting such a boundless reading, and the lack of any apparent need to do so in light of the context from which the statute arose -- a treaty about chemical warfare and terrorism, not about local assaults. Thus, the Court can reasonably insist on a clear indication that Congress intended to reach purely local crimes before interpreting section 229's expansive language in a way that intrudes on the States' police power. Pp. 10-14.

(2) No such clear indication is found in section 229. An ordinary speaker would not describe Bond's feud-driven act of spreading irritating chemicals as involving a " chemical weapon." And the chemicals at issue here bear little resemblance to those whose prohibition was the object of an international Convention. Where the breadth of a statutory definition creates ambiguity, it is appropriate to look to the ordinary meaning of the term being defined (here, " chemical weapon" ) in settling on a fair reading of the statute. See Johnson

v. United States, 559 U.S. 133, 130 S.Ct. 1265, 176 L.Ed.2d 1.

The Government's reading of section 229 would transform a statute concerned with acts of war, assassination, and terrorism into a massive federal anti-poisoning regime that reaches the simplest of assaults. In light of the principle that Congress does not normally intrude upon the States' police power, this Court is reluctant to conclude that Congress meant to punish Bond's crime with a federal prosecution for a chemical weapons attack. In fact, only a handful of prosecutions have been brought under section 229, and most of those involved crimes not traditionally within the States' purview, e.g., terrorist plots.

Pennsylvania's laws are sufficient to prosecute assaults like Bond's, and there is no indication in section 229 that Congress intended to abandon its traditional " reluctan[ce] to define as a federal crime conduct readily denounced as criminal by the States," Bass, supra, at 349, 92 S.Ct. 515, 30 L.Ed.2d 488. That principle goes to the very structure of the Constitution, and " protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power." Bond

v. United States, 564 U.S. ___, ______, 131 S.Ct. 2355, 2364, 180 L.Ed.2d 269, 280. The global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard. Pp. 15-21.

681 F.3d 149, reversed and remanded.

Paul D. Clement argued the cause for petitioner.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. argued the cause for respondent.

Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined, and in which Alito, J., joined as to Part I. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Scalia, J., joined, and in which Alito, J., joined as to Parts I, II, and III. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

OPINION

[134 S.Ct. 2083] Roberts, Chief Justice.

The horrors of chemical warfare were vividly captured by John Singer Sargent in his 1919 painting Gassed. The nearly life-sized work depicts two lines of soldiers, blinded by mustard gas, clinging single file to orderlies guiding them to an improvised aid station. There they would receive little treatment and no relief; many suffered for weeks only to have the gas claim their lives. The soldiers were shown staggering through piles of comrades too seriously burned to even join the procession.

The painting reflects the devastation that Sargent witnessed in the aftermath of the Second Battle of Arras during World War I. That battle and others like it led to an overwhelming consensus in the international community that toxic chemicals should never again be used as weapons against human beings. Today that objective is reflected in the international Convention on Chemical Weapons, which has been ratified or acceded to by 190 countries. The United States, pursuant to the Federal Government's constitutionally enumerated power to make treaties, ratified the treaty in 1997. To fulfill the United States' obligations under the Convention, Congress enacted the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998. The Act makes it a federal crime for a person to use or possess any chemical weapon, and it punishes violators with severe penalties. It is a statute that, like the Convention it implements, deals with crimes of deadly seriousness.

The question presented by this case is whether the Implementation Act also reaches a purely local crime: an amateur attempt by a jilted wife to injure her husband's lover, which ended up causing only a minor thumb burn readily treated by rinsing with water. Because our constitutional structure leaves local criminal activity primarily to the States, we have generally declined to read federal law as intruding on that responsibility, unless Congress has clearly indicated that the law should have such reach. The Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act contains no such clear indication, and we accordingly conclude that it does not cover the unremarkable local offense at issue here.

I

A

In 1997, the President of the United States, upon the advice and consent of the Senate, ratified the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction. S. Treaty Doc. No...

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