RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
DOCKET NO.: 12-158
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
CITATION: 572 US (2014)
GRANTED: Jan 18, 2013
ARGUED: Nov 05, 2013
DECIDED: Jun 02, 2014
Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. - Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent
Paul D. Clement - for the petitioner
Facts of the case
Carol Anne Bond worked for the chemical manufacturer Rohm and Haas. When she learned that her friend Myrlinda Haynes was pregnant and that Bond's husband was the father, she used her connections with the chemical company to obtain the means for revenge. She stole and purchased highly toxic chemicals that she applied to Haynes' doorknobs, car door handles, and mailbox. Haynes suffered a minor burn, and after contacting a federal investigator, Bond was identified as the perpetrator. She was charged with several violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998 (Act).
In the district court, Bond moved to dismiss the case and argued that Congress did not have the authority to enforce the Act because it subverted states' rights in violation of the Tenth Amendment. The district court denied the motion, and Bond conditionally pled guilty with the understanding that she could continue to appeal the decision regarding the validity of the Act. She was sentenced to six years in prison. Bond renewed her challenge to the Act in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which held that Bond did not have standing to appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision and held that the case must be considered on its merits. The case was remanded back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3d Circuit. The Court of Appeals held that the Act was within Congress' power to enact and enforce.
(1) Does Congress have the authority to enact legislation that enforces a treaty but goes beyond the scope of the treaty and intrudes on traditional state prerogatives?
(2) Can the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act be properly interpreted so that it does not apply to ordinary poisoning cases, which have been traditionally handled by state and local authorities?
Media for Bond v. United StatesAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 05, 2013 in Bond v. United States
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 02, 2014 in Bond v. United States
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
I have our opinion this morning in case 12-158 Bond v. United States.
When petitioner Carol Bond discovered that her husband had fathered a child with another woman, Myrlinda Haynes, Bond went to Haynes' home and spread two irritating chemicals on Haynes' mailbox, door knob and car.
Bond hoped that the chemicals would give Haynes an uncomfortable rash.
Now, these amateur attempted assaults were almost entirely unsuccessful primarily because the chemicals are easy to see.
On one occasion, Haynes suffered a minor chemical burn that she treated by rinsing it with water, but otherwise Haynes was unharmed.
Now rather than leave this local crime for prosecution by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Federal Government decided literally to make a federal case out of it, but not just any federal case.
Federal prosecutors charged Bond with among other things violating Section 229 of the federal criminal code.
That provision implements the international treaty banning the use of chemical weapons whose official name is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction.
Now, as you might imagine, violating that provision carries severe penalties up to life imprison and even in some circumstances, the death penalty.
Now Bond argued that the federal statute did not cover her simple assault and that if it did, then it exceeded Congress's enumerated powers in violation of the Tenth Amendment.
The Tenth Amendment is the one providing that “power is not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.”
The District Court and Third Circuit rejected those arguments and we granted certiorari.
Now the parties have spent much of their briefing in this Court focusing on the constitutional question of whether Section 229 is a necessary and proper exercise of the Federal Government's power enumerated in Article II to make treaties.
But it has long been settled that we consider statutory questions before constitutional ones.
So we begin with Bond's argument that Section 229 does not reach her conduct.
The text of the federal statute like that of the treaty it implements is very broad.
The statute prohibits possessing or using a chemical weapon defined in relevant part as a toxic chemical and its precursors.
Toxic chemical in turn is defined in general as any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation, or permanent harm for humans or animals.
The term includes all such chemicals regardless of their origin or their method of production.
Although Section 229 uses expansive terms, there is good reason to think that it is not as broad as it might appear.
First, the ordinary meaning of the term chemical weapon does not apply to Bond.
To say that a person used a chemical weapon conveys a very different idea than saying the person used a chemical in a way that caused some harm.
The chemicals that Bond used here bear little resemblance to the mustard gas, ricin, sarin and other sorts of lethal toxins that were the primary concerns of the Chemical Weapons treaty which was first promulgated in the wake of the horrific use of chemical weapons in World War I.
Nor do the other circumstances of Bond's offense, an act borne of romantic jealousy meant to cause discomfort that produced nothing more than a minor thumb burn suggests that this case is one about deploying a chemical weapon.
The government's interpretation of Section 229 would sweep in everything, from the detergent under the kitchen sink, to the stain remover in the laundry room that might be used maliciously to harm any animal as soon as the home owner formed that intent.
It would cover placing a few drops of vinegar in the goldfish ball.
Yet, no one would ordinarily describe that as the use of a chemical weapon.
It is not necessary to interpret Section 229 so broadly.
The statute implements the treaty, and we doubt that a deadly serious international treaty about chemical weapons has anything to do with Bond's two-bit local assault.
Even if the treaty itself does reach that far, it provides that each signatory nation should implement its obligations “in accordance with its constitutional processes.”