A federal civil-commitment statute authorizes the Department of Justice to detain a mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoners beyond the date the prisoner would otherwise be released. The Government instituted civil commitment proceedings in the federal district court in 2006 against five respondents. The respondents moved to dismiss the civil-commitment proceeding and the district court granted their motion to dismiss.
A federal statute must constitute a means that is rationally related to the implementation of a constitutionally enumerated powers to be lawful under the Necessary and Proper Clause.
Congress enacted a federal statute that authorized the Department of Justice to detain a mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoners beyond the date the prisoner would otherwise be released. The statute allowed a district court to order the civil commitment of an individual who is currently in the custody of the federal prisons if certain conditions are met. Confinement in the facility will last if the person’s mental condition improves or a State assumes responsibility for his custody. The statute was challenged by respondents on constitutional grounds.
Does Congress has the power to enact a federal statute that authorizes the Department of Justice to detain a mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoners beyond the date the prisoner would otherwise be released?
Yes, the Constitution gives Congress the authority to enact the statute authorizing the Department of Justice to detain a mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoners beyond the date the prisoner would otherwise be released as “necessary and proper for carrying into the execution the powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States.
No enumerated power in Article I expressly grants Congress the power to enact a civil-commitment statute for sexually dangerous persons. Thus, the statute can be a valid exercise of congressional authority only if it is necessary and proper for carrying into execution one of more of those federal powers actually enumerated in the Constitution. However, the federal government failed to identify specific enumerated power as a constitutional predicate for the statute and none are readily ascertainable. The Court’s transforming the Necessary and Proper Clause into a basis for the federal police that is what the Court has always has rejected.
Justice Kennedy and Alito
Kennedy: Respondents’ argument that congressional authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause can be no more than one step removed from an enumerated power is incorrect. To determine whether a federal law has sufficient links to an enumerated power to be within the scope of federal authority, the strength of the chain, not the number of links, is what matters.
Alito: Most federal criminal statutes rest upon a congressional judgment that, to execute powers conferred on Congress, it is necessary and proper to criminalize certain conduct, and to do that it is necessary and proper to provide for the operation of a federal criminal justice system and a federal prison system.
The Necessary and Proper Clause grants Congress broad authority to enact federal legislation that is convenient or useful to the authority’s beneficial exercise. Congress enacted the statute to prevent federal crimes which Congress has the power to do so under its constitutionally enumerated powers. The civil-commitment statute constitutes a modest addition to a set of federal prison-related mental-health statutes that have existed for many years. Moreover, the statute properly accounts for state interests. The power to enact a law under the Necessary and Proper Clause solely belongs to the federal government and it requires accommodation of state interests. Finally, the links between the statute and an enumerated Article I power are not too attenuated justifying the legitimacy of the statute.