United States v. Comstock, No. 08–1224.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustice BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.
Citation560 U.S. 126,130 S.Ct. 1949,176 L.Ed.2d 878
Docket NumberNo. 08–1224.
Decision Date17 May 2010
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. Grayson Earl COMSTOCK, Jr., et al.

560 U.S. 126
130 S.Ct.
1949
176 L.Ed.2d 878

UNITED STATES, Petitioner,
v.
Grayson Earl COMSTOCK, Jr., et al.

No. 08–1224.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Jan. 12, 2010.
Decided May 17, 2010.


Solicitor General Elena Kagan for the petitioner.

G. Alan Dubois for the respondents.

Elena Kagan, Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

Robert A. Long, Jr., Ann O'Connell, Covington & Burling LLP, Washington, DC, Thomas P. McNamara, Fed. Pub. Def., G. Alan DuBois, Jane E. Pearce, Asst. Fed. Pub. Defenders, Eric J. Brignac, Lauren Brennan, Raleigh, NC, Counsel for Respondents.

130 S.Ct. 1954

Elena Kagan, Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Tony West, Asst. Atty. Gen., Edwin S. Kneedler, Deputy Solicitor Gen., Curtis E. Gannon, Asst. to the Solicitor Gen., Mark B. Stern, Samantha L. Chaifetz, Washington, D.C.

Opinion

Justice BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.

560 U.S. 129

A federal civil-commitment statute authorizes the Department of Justice to detain a mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoner beyond the date the prisoner would otherwise be released. 18 U.S.C. § 4248. We have previously examined similar statutes enacted under state law to determine whether they violate the Due Process Clause. See Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346, 356–358, 117 S.Ct. 2072, 138 L.Ed.2d 501 (1997); Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407, 122 S.Ct. 867, 151 L.Ed.2d 856 (2002). But this case presents a different question. Here we ask whether the Federal Government has the authority under Article I of the Constitution to enact this federal civil-commitment program or whether its doing so falls beyond the reach of a government “of

560 U.S. 130

enumerated powers.” McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 405, 4 L.Ed. 579 (1819). We conclude that the Constitution grants Congress the authority to enact § 4248 as “necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” the powers “vested by” the “Constitution in the Government of the United States.” Art. I, § 8, cl. 18.

I

The federal statute before us allows a district court to order the civil commitment of an individual who is currently “in the custody of the [Federal] Bureau of Prisons,” § 4248, if that individual (1) has previously “engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation,” (2) currently “suffers from a serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder,” and (3) “as a result of” that mental illness, abnormality, or disorder is “sexually dangerous to others,” in that “he would have serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released.” §§ 4247(a)(5)-(6).

In order to detain such a person, the Government (acting through the Department of Justice) must certify to a federal district judge that the prisoner meets the conditions just described, i.e., that he has engaged in sexually violent activity or child molestation in the past and that he suffers from a mental illness that makes him correspondingly dangerous to others. § 4248(a). When such a certification is filed, the statute automatically stays the individual's release from prison, ibid., thereby giving the Government an opportunity to prove its claims at a hearing through psychiatric (or other) evidence, §§ 4247(b)-(c), 4248(b). The statute provides that the prisoner “shall be represented by counsel” and shall have “an opportunity” at the hearing “to testify, to present evidence, to subpoena witnesses on his behalf, and to confront and cross-examine” the Government's witnesses. §§ 4247(d), 4248(c).

If the Government proves its claims by “clear and convincing evidence,” the court will order the prisoner's continued

560 U.S. 131

commitment in “the custody of the Attorney General,” who must “make all reasonable efforts to cause” the State where that person was tried, or the State where he is domiciled, to “assume responsibility for his custody, care, and treatment.” § 4248(d); cf. Sullivan v. Freeman, 944 F.2d 334, 337 (C.A.7 1991). If either State is willing to

130 S.Ct. 1955

assume that responsibility, the Attorney General “shall release” the individual “to the appropriate official” of that State. § 4248(d). But if, “notwithstanding such efforts, neither such State will assume such responsibility,” then “the Attorney General shall place the person for treatment in a suitable [federal] facility.” Ibid.; cf. § 4247(i)(A).

Confinement in the federal facility will last until either (1) the person's mental condition improves to the point where he is no longer dangerous (with or without appropriate ongoing treatment), in which case he will be released; or (2) a State assumes responsibility for his custody, care, and treatment, in which case he will be transferred to the custody of that State. §§ 4248(d)(1)-(2). The statute establishes a system for ongoing psychiatric and judicial review of the individual's case, including judicial hearings at the request of the confined person at six-month intervals. §§ 4247(e)(1)(B), (h).

In November and December 2006, the Government instituted proceedings in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina against the five respondents in this case. Three of the five had previously pleaded guilty in federal court to possession of child pornography, see 507 F.Supp.2d 522, 526, and n. 2 (2007); § 2252A(a), and the fourth had pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a minor, see United States v. Vigil, No. 1:99CR00509–001 (D NM, Jan. 26, 2000); §§ 1153, 2243(a). With respect to each of them, the Government claimed that the respondent was about to be released from federal prison, that he had engaged in sexually violent conduct or child molestation in the past, and that he suffered from a mental illness that made him sexually dangerous to

560 U.S. 132

others. App. 38–40, 44–52. During that same time period, the Government instituted similar proceedings against the fifth respondent, who had been charged in federal court with aggravated sexual abuse of a minor, but was found mentally incompetent to stand trial. See id., at 41–43; United States v. Catron, No. 04–778 (D Ariz., Mar. 27, 2006); § 4241(d).

Each of the five respondents moved to dismiss the civil-commitment proceeding on constitutional grounds. They claimed that the commitment proceeding is, in fact, criminal, not civil, in nature and consequently that it violates the Double Jeopardy Clause, the Ex Post Facto Clause, and the Sixth and Eighth Amendments. 507 F.Supp.2d, at 528. They claimed that the statute denies them substantive due process and equal protection of the laws. Ibid. They claimed that it violates their procedural due process rights by allowing a showing of sexual dangerousness to be made by clear and convincing evidence, instead of by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Ibid. And, finally, they claimed that, in enacting the statute, Congress exceeded the powers granted to it by Article I, § 8 of the Constitution, including those granted by the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. 507 F.Supp.2d, at 528–529.

The District Court, accepting two of the respondents' claims, granted their motion to dismiss. It agreed with respondents that the Constitution requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, id., at 551–559 (citing In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970)), and it agreed that, in enacting the statute, Congress exceeded its Article I legislative powers, 507 F.Supp.2d, at 530–551. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the dismissal on this latter, legislative-power ground. 551 F.3d 274, 278–284 (2009). It did not decide the standard-of-proof question, nor did it address any of respondents' other constitutional challenges. Id., at 276, n. 1.

130 S.Ct. 1956

The Government sought certiorari, and we granted its request, limited to the question of Congress' authority under

560 U.S. 133

Article I, § 8 of the Constitution. Pet. for Cert. i. Since then, two other Courts of Appeals have considered that same question, each deciding it in the Government's favor, thereby creating a split of authority among the Circuits. See United States v. Volungus, 595 F.3d 1 (C.A.1 2010); United States v. Tom, 565 F.3d 497 (C.A.8 2009).

II

The question presented is whether the Necessary and Proper Clause, Art. I, § 8, cl. 18, grants Congress authority sufficient to enact the statute before us. In resolving that question, we assume, but we do not decide, that other provisions of the Constitution—such as the Due Process Clause—do not prohibit civil commitment in these circumstances. Cf. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346, 117 S.Ct. 2072, 138 L.Ed.2d 501; Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418, 99 S.Ct. 1804, 60 L.Ed.2d 323 (1979). In other words, we assume for argument's sake that the Federal Constitution would permit a State to enact this statute, and we ask solely whether the Federal Government, exercising its enumerated powers, may enact such a statute as well. On that assumption, we conclude that the Constitution...

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193 practice notes
  • United States v. Brune, No. 12–3322.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • September 19, 2014
    ...constitutes a means that is rationally related to the implementation of a constitutionally enumerated power.” United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. 126, 134, 130 S.Ct. 1949, 176 L.Ed.2d 878 (2010) ; see also McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316, 4 Wheat. 316, 405, 4 L.Ed. 579 (1819). To answer ......
  • Swanston v. City of Plano, Tex., Civil Action 4:19-cv-412
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • August 27, 2021
    ...v. Friedlander, 978 F.3d 418, 438 (6th Cir. 2020) (emphasis added) (quoting Lee Optical, 348 U.S. at 488); see United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. 126, 151 (2010) (Kennedy, J., concurring). The means by which a legislative measure addresses an issue can be rational even when “hypothetical f......
  • United States v. Aquart, No. 12-5086-cr
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • December 20, 2018
    ...Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316, 413–15, 4 L.Ed. 579 (1819) (Marshall, C.J.) (emphasis in original); accord United States v. Comstock , 560 U.S. 126, 133–34, 130 S.Ct. 1949, 176 L.Ed.2d 878 (2010). Rather, a law will be deemed necessary and proper if it is "rationally related to the implem......
  • Owino v. Corecivic, Inc., Case No.: 17-CV-1112 JLS (NLS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 14, 2018
    ...and Proper Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 18, grants Congress broad power to enact federal legislation, United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. 126, 133 (2010) (citing McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 405 (1819)). Thus, even though the Constitution does not explicitly authorize federa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
187 cases
  • United States v. Brune, No. 12–3322.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • September 19, 2014
    ...constitutes a means that is rationally related to the implementation of a constitutionally enumerated power.” United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. 126, 134, 130 S.Ct. 1949, 176 L.Ed.2d 878 (2010) ; see also McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316, 4 Wheat. 316, 405, 4 L.Ed. 579 (1819). To answer ......
  • Swanston v. City of Plano, Tex., Civil Action 4:19-cv-412
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • August 27, 2021
    ...v. Friedlander, 978 F.3d 418, 438 (6th Cir. 2020) (emphasis added) (quoting Lee Optical, 348 U.S. at 488); see United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. 126, 151 (2010) (Kennedy, J., concurring). The means by which a legislative measure addresses an issue can be rational even when “hypothetical f......
  • United States v. Aquart, No. 12-5086-cr
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • December 20, 2018
    ...Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316, 413–15, 4 L.Ed. 579 (1819) (Marshall, C.J.) (emphasis in original); accord United States v. Comstock , 560 U.S. 126, 133–34, 130 S.Ct. 1949, 176 L.Ed.2d 878 (2010). Rather, a law will be deemed necessary and proper if it is "rationally related to the implem......
  • Owino v. Corecivic, Inc., Case No.: 17-CV-1112 JLS (NLS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 14, 2018
    ...and Proper Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 18, grants Congress broad power to enact federal legislation, United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. 126, 133 (2010) (citing McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 405 (1819)). Thus, even though the Constitution does not explicitly authorize federa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • PERJURY
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...power to enact the three statutes is “ in furtherance of [its] power to constitute federal tribunals.” United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. 126, 136 (2010) (citing Jinks v. Richland County, 538 U.S. 456, 462 n.2 (2003)). 6. Section 1621 provides in relevant part: Whoever . . . having taken a......
  • THE IMAGINARY IMMIGRATION CLAUSE.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 120 Nbr. 7, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...Constitution, 102 Va. L. Rev. 687, 721-22 (2016). (580.) Nat'l Fed'n of Indep. Bus., 567 U.S. at 560 (quoting United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. 126, 153 (2010)(Kennedy, J., concurring)); see also John F. Manning, The Supreme Court, 2013 Term--Foreword: The Means of Constitutional Power, 1......
  • Mcculloch v. Maryland and the Incoherence of Enumerationism
    • United States
    • The Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy Nbr. 19-1, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...concurring). McCulloch has been occasionally applied to other enumerated powers in this time frame. See, e.g., United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. 126 (2010) (applying McCulloch and the Necessary and Proper Clause to implied power to create criminal laws). 8. 567 U.S. 519 (2012). 9. Id. at ......

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