Jones v. United States - Oral Argument - March 21, 2000 Page 16

Jones v. United States

Media for Jones v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 22, 2000 in Jones v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 2000 in Jones v. United States

Michael R. Dreeben:

That is not part of the enacted bill, and it was done deliberately in order to allow this bill to reach to the limits of Federal power.

William H. Rehnquist:

What is the connection with a church?

I mean, what if the hymnals cross State lines?

Would that be enough?

Michael R. Dreeben:

It could be, but that is not typically the sort of connection that we have relied on in prosecuting cases like that.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, you'd say the church got heat from natural gas.

You'd be back into the same kind of argument you're making here--

Michael R. Dreeben:

We would have--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--But, Mr. Dreeben, it does seem to me that if you read used in an activity in the statute to encompass these passive sorts of uses, the phrase is just converted into something that means anything affecting commerce, and the legislative branch didn't use that language.

And it sort of reads the phrase out of the statute in a sense.

Michael R. Dreeben:

--Well, I don't think that it does read it out of the statute, Justice O'Connor.

This is not a statute like section 924(c) where this Court said use has to mean active use in some manner of deployment.

In that statute, the Court was confronted with verbs that said use or carry, and the Court had to do something to give those two words independent, nonduplicative meaning.

Whereas, this statute is a statute where Congress expressed its intention to go to the limits of the Commerce Clause authority, and it did not couple--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, you don't really think Congress intended to cover private residences I suppose.

I mean, if you want to play the congressional intent game, there was substantial evidence that it didn't.

Michael R. Dreeben:

--There were some legislators who felt that it couldn't, and there were other legislators who very much wanted to provide Federal authority to investigate and prosecute those sorts of crimes.

And the compromise solution is a bill that places it in the hands of the courts to determine whether the Government has proved the kinds of jurisdictional connections that satisfy the Constitution.

If we can prove the kinds of jurisdictional connections... and we must do that... to satisfy the Constitution, we have also come within the language of the bill.

Antonin Scalia:

Do you... you think Congress can do that in a criminal statute, not... not say, look it, this is what we're criminalizing, but rather say, we're criminalizing as much as we can criminalize because, boy, this is so hard to figure out, we're not going to try to draw the line, we're going to let the courts figure it out?

Now, Congress is unable to draw the line itself with its massive staff, and... and the individual citizen who's supposed to know whether he's violating a Federal law or not has to what?

He's going to have to figure out what the courts are going to say is... is far enough?

Michael R. Dreeben:

Well, I don't--

Antonin Scalia:

I mean, I question whether Congress can do that and just say we're going to extend this criminal statute as far as the courts will let us extend it.

Do you think... don't you think that's vague?

Michael R. Dreeben:

--No, I don't think that it's vague, and I don't think that there's a requirement of precision in the way that Your Honor has articulated it that's applicable to a jurisdictional element.

It's a Federal crime if you assault an individual and it turns out that that individual is an undercover Federal police officer and you had no way of knowing that until you're prosecuted in Federal court.

Antonin Scalia:

Well, you know what the crime was.

You knew that... that it was a crime to assault a police officer.

When you assault somebody, you're taking a chance that it's an undercover police officer.