The Tea Party’s favorite part of the Constitution — the 10th Amendment, which limits federal power — arrived at the Supreme Court last week. In keeping with the spirit of the times, it came wrapped in the plot of a soap opera.
The amendment has played a starring role in challenges to the recent federal health care legislation. But the justices have not made the task of divining their own views particularly easy.
Their most recent consideration of where Congress’s constitutional power ends came in a case involving the civil commitment of sex offenders.
Now the court has decided to consider what to do about a woman hellbent on poisoning her best friend.
The woman, Carol A. Bond of Lansdale, Pa., was at first delighted to learn that her friend was pregnant. Ms. Bond’s mood darkened, though, when it emerged that her husband was the father. “I am going to make your life a living hell,” she said, according to her now-former friend, Myrlinda Haynes.
Ms. Bond, a microbiologist, certainly tried. On about two dozen occasions, she spread lethal chemicals on her friend’s car, mailbox and doorknob.
Ms. Haynes, who managed to escape serious injury, complained to the local police. They did not respond with particular vigor. After checking to see whether the white powder on her car was cocaine, they advised her to have it cleaned.
Federal postal inspectors were more helpful. They videotaped Ms. Bond stealing mail and putting poison in the muffler of Ms. Haynes’s car.
When it came time to charge Ms. Bond with a crime, federal prosecutors chose a novel theory. They indicted her not only for stealing mail, an obvious federal offense, but also for using unconventional weapons in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, a treaty aimed at terrorists and rogue states.
Had she been prosecuted in state court, Ms. Bond would most likely have faced a sentence of three months to two years, her lawyers say. In federal court, she got six years.
Ms. Bond’s argument on appeal was that Congress did not have the constitutional power to use a chemical weapons treaty to address a matter of a sort routinely handled by state authorities.