Bad Cases Make Bad Law in Federal Courts

A recent United States Supreme Court argument has been in the news lately; in the case of United States v. Bond, argued before the Supremes on February 22, a woman was prosecuted under Federal Statutes passed by Congress to enforce a ban on Chemical Weapons– using a treaty with the catchy name of the “Convention on the Prohibition for the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction.”

I will refer to this as the “Goldfish Case” due to the reasoning presented in a question by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alioto, Jr, which will be addressed later in this blog.

The statute, passed as a Homeland Security measure aimed at terrorists and “rogue states” like LIbya, was instead used by some ambitious assistant U.S. Attorney to prosecute Carol Ann Bond, a microbiologist, who was convicted and sentenced to 6 years in Federal Prison for taking potentially lethal chemicals from her workplace and spreading them on the car of a woman who had been sleeping with, and impregnated by, Bond’s husband.

Bond would have been subjected to only two years in state court; she got 6 on the Federal charges, due to the harsh nature of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. This is part of a developing pattern of state law enforcement agents bringing relatively banal state cases, such as hand to hand drug buys and other street crime cases to the federal level because of the more severe federal sentencing.

The case went to the nation’s highest court because of the constitutional issues presented; whether a lone individual has the right to pursue claims that the Federal Government has trespassed into areas reserved by the states; that is, a 10th amendment claim which higher courts have previously ruled can only presented by the states themselves,usually through the state attorneys general, rather than by a lone individual. (a prime tea party issue).

But the Government has agreed that Bond should be allowed to challenge a Federal Statue under which her liberty is being deprived. In argument before the Supreme Court his past week, Justice Alioto then questioned the Government’s argument by using the above-stated Goldfish analogy: “.a toxic chemical is a chemical that can cause death to animals. And pouring vinegar in a goldfish bowl, I believe, will cause death to the goldfish, so that’s..a chemical weapon.”

One of the chemicals Bond used was a chemical used in photography. “There is something odd about the Government’s theory that I can buy a chemical weapon at Amazon.com”, argued Bond’s lawyer.

But I would argue that here again is a bad case brought by an ambitious prosecutor who is using a law intended for international terrorists to bring the giant hammer of the Federal Government down on the head of a jealous woman who was getting even with her husband’s lover.

Bad cases make bad law. Even for Goldfish.