Supreme Court rules sex offenders detainable after terms end

"Equal justice under law" is the message that greets visitors to the Supreme Court building. Is their ruling in U.S. v. Comstock regarding sex offenders just?

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of protecting children from sex offenders with their U.S. v. Comstock decision. (Photo: Flickr)

In a ruling on U.S. v. Comstock, the Supreme Court has made it possible for federal officials to hold prison inmates considered “sexually dangerous” after their sentences are complete. The Associated Press indicates that this officially reverses a lower court decision claiming that Congress had overstepped its bounds by allowing indefinite detention of sex offenders at risk to repeat. Funding for such incarceration will be difficult to come by, whether by increased taxes, federal subsidies or instant payday loans.

‘Necessary and proper,’ says Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

The Supreme Court rules on many of the weightiest issues facing America’s legal system. The safety and liberty of American citizens are frequently at stake, hence justices do not take their duties lightly. Sometimes their decisions run afoul of human decency (as in their recent ruling that animal cruelty “crush” videos may be protected by First Amendment rights), but thankfully there is still room in the hallowed chambers for protecting the helpless from being violated. In his majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Breyer wrote that the U.S. v. Comstock (08-1224) ruling is

“A necessary and proper means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned by who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others.”

This protection is closely tied to the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which former President George W. Bush signed into law in 2006. The Walsh Act opened the door for “civil commitment of sexually dangerous federal inmates,” reports the AP. In addition, the Walsh Act established the national sex offender registry, increased punishment for certain federal crimes against children and took a stronger stance against child pornography.

Take that, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

According to Justice Breyer’s majority opinion summary, the Supreme Court “concludes that the Constitution grants Congress legislative power sufficient to enact.” The opposition, led by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, opined that because such a federal power is not specifically listed in the Constitution, Congress shouldn’t have the right to such dramatic action. One wonders if the founding fathers could have conceived of all the ways the Constitution would come to be tested as society has changed. If the Constitution is indeed a “living document,” then perhaps static fundamentalist thinking within the Supreme Court does more harm than good.

(Photo Credit: / CC BY 2.0)

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