Monday, June 06, 2005

Listen to This Dissent

Another reason why Clarence Thomas should be the next Chief Justice of the United States, and why George W. Bush will not nominate him -- Justice Thomas’ dissenting opinion in Ashcroft v. Raich, in which the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 (O’Connor, Rehnquist, and Thomas, dissenting) that the federal government can prosecute users of medical marijuana even in states that legalize such activity (references and citations omitted):

Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything--and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.

Respondents' local cultivation and consumption of marijuana is not “Commerce . . . among the several States.” U. S. Const., Art. I, §8, cl. 3. By holding that Congress may regulate activity that is neither interstate nor commerce under the Interstate Commerce Clause, the Court abandons any attempt to enforce the Constitution’s limits on federal power. The majority supports this conclusion by invoking, without explanation, the Necessary and Proper Clause. Regulating respondents’ conduct, however, is not “necessary and proper for carrying into Execution.” Congress. restrictions on the interstate drug trade. Art. I, §8, cl. 18. Thus, neither the Commerce Clause nor the Necessary and Proper Clause grants Congress the power to regulate respondents’ conduct.

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More difficult, however, is whether the [Controlled Substances Act] is a valid exercise of Congress. power to enact laws that are “necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” its power to regulate interstate commerce. Art. I, §8, cl. 18. The Necessary and Proper Clause is not a warrant to Congress to enact any law that bears some conceivable connection to the exercise of an enumerated power. Nor is it, however, a command to Congress to enact only laws that are absolutely indispensable to the exercise of an enumerated power. In McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316 (1819), this Court, speaking through Chief Justice Marshall, set forth a test for determining when an Act of Congress is permissible under the Necessary and Proper Clause:

"Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional."

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The majority’s rewriting of the Commerce Clause seems to be rooted in the belief that, unless the Commerce Clause covers the entire web of human activity, Congress will be left powerless to regulate the national economy effectively. The interconnectedness of economic activity is not a modern phenomenon unfamiliar to the Framers. Moreover, the Framers understood what the majority does not appear to fully appreciate: There is a danger to concentrating too much, as well as too little, power in the Federal Government. This Court has carefully avoided stripping Congress of its ability to regulate interstate commerce, but it has casually allowed the Federal Government to strip States of their ability to regulate intrastate commerce--not to mention a host of local activities, like mere drug possession, that are not commercial.

One searches the Court’s opinion in vain for any hint of what aspect of American life is reserved to the States. Yet this Court knows that “‘[t]he Constitution created a Federal Government of limited powers.’” That is why today’s decision will add no measure of stability to our Commerce Clause jurisprudence: This Court is willing neither to enforce limits on federal power, nor to declare the Tenth Amendment a dead letter. If stability is possible, it is only by discarding the stand-alone substantial effects test and revisiting our definition of “Commerce among the several States.” Congress may regulate interstate commerce--not things that affect it, even when summed together, unless truly “necessary and proper” to regulating interstate commerce.

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Finally, the majority’s view--that because some of the CSA’s applications are constitutional, they must all be constitutional--undermines its reliance on the substantial effects test. The intrastate conduct swept within a general regulatory scheme may or may not have a substantial effect on the relevant interstate market. “[O]ne always can draw the circle broadly enough to cover an activity that, when taken in isolation, would not have substantial effects on commerce.” The breadth of legislation that Congress enacts says nothing about whether the intrastate activity substantially affects interstate commerce, let alone whether it is necessary to the scheme. Because medical marijuana users in California and elsewhere are not placing substantial amounts of cannabis into the stream of interstate commerce, Congress may not regulate them under the substantial effects test, no matter how broadly it drafts the CSA.

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The majority prevents States like California from devising drug policies that they have concluded provide much-needed respite to the seriously ill. It does so without any serious inquiry into the necessity for federal regulation or the propriety of “displac[ing] state regulation in areas of traditional state concern.” The majority’s rush to embrace federal power ‘is especially unfortunate given the importance of showing respect for the sovereign States that comprise our Federal Union.” Our federalist system, properly understood, allows California and a growing number of other States to decide for themselves how to safeguard the health and welfare of their citizens. I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals. I respectfully dissent.

If we are ever going to return to a government of limited and enumerated powers, we need more men (and women) like Clarence Thomas leading that government.

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