RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
You could call her Chemical Carol. Carol Anne Bond was convicted of trying to poison her husband's mistress with chemicals she stole from her workplace. The federal government prosecuted her for violating American laws enacted to implement a treaty on chemical weapons. Now her case is before the Supreme Court and it's testing some very important questions. NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has this report.
NINA TOTENBERG: When the case reached the Supreme Court, it took another twist. The Obama administration, while staunchly defending the law, agreed with Bond, that she does have the right to challenge it. So the Supreme Court appointed another lawyer to defend the lower court ruling. Today, that lawyer, Steven McAllister, will tell the justices that the 10th amendment delineates what he calls a structural right.
MONTAGNE: A right that, if it belongs to anyone, it belongs to the states, and it is not a claim that she can bring as an individual. A state or a state official would have to bring that claim.
TOTENBERG: Not so, says former Bush administration Solicitor General Paul Clement, who is representing Bond in the Supreme Court.
MONTAGNE: In a criminal case, it ought to be just a fundamental principle that you have a right to object to the constitutionality of the statute under which you're being prosecuted.
TOTENBERG: Clement goes on to argue that Congress never intended to cover domestic disputes under a law enacted to implement the chemical weapons treaty. Otherwise, as he puts it...
MONTAGNE: If you parked in my parking space, and I took great umbrage at that and decided I was going to throw bleach on your car or use some other household chemical on your car in a malicious way, that seems like it would come within the government's conception of what's a chemical weapon - an unauthorized use of a chemical agent. And I just don't think that when Congress passed this statute to implement the chemical weapon treaty that that's what they had in mind.
TOTENBERG: But the federal government and lawyer McAllister counter that a statute like this one, enacted under the federal government's treaty power, cannot be foiled by states rights claims. McAllister asserts that if Bond is right, and the statute is invalid, then many a terrorist would be immune from federal prosecution on appropriate charges.
MCALLISTER: What about some fella who's sitting at home and makes the chemicals and then, you know, puts them in the mail to the justices of the Supreme Court, a la the anthrax scare?
TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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