Federal Government Wins Comstock

This morning the Supreme Court handed down its opinion in United States v. Comstock, a challenge to the federal government’s authority to civilly commit a “sexually dangerous”  federal prisoner beyond the time of his sentence.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the federal government lacked such authority within its enumerated powers.  The Supreme Court disagreed, voting 7-2 to uphold the federal government’s commitment power under the Necessary & Proper Clause.  Justice Breyer wrote for the majority.  Justices Kennedy & Alito concurred in the judgment, and Justice Thomas dissented, joined by Justice Scalia.  The opinions are here.  Some earlier VC posts on the case are here and here.  I haven’t had a chance to read the opinions yet, but given that Justice Breyer wrote the majority — and that he is such an avowed advocate of broad federal power — I suspect this decision is a major setback for those seeking to limit the federal government to its constitutionally enumerated powers.

UPDATE: Here is how Justice Breyer summarizes the Court’s rationale in the concluding portion of his opinion:

We take these five considerations together. They include: (1) the breadth of the Necessary and Proper Clause, (2) the long history of federal involvement in this arena, (3) the sound reasons for the statute’s enactment in lightof the Government’s custodial interest in safeguarding the public from dangers posed by those in federal custody, (4) the statute’s accommodation of state interests, and (5) the statute’s narrow scope. Taken together, these considera-tions lead us to conclude that the statute is a “necessary and proper” means of exercising the federal authority thatpermits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to pun-ish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned, and to maintain the securityof those who are not imprisoned but who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others. The Constitution consequently authorizes Congress to enact the statute.

We do not reach or decide any claim that the statute or its application denies equal protection of the laws, procedural or substantive due process, or any other rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Respondents are free topursue those claims on remand, and any others they have preserved.