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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Lee Ross

Supreme Court

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High Court Upholds Sex Offender Law

May 17, 2010 - 11:17 AM | by: Lee Ross

In a 7-2 ruling penned by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Supreme Court says a federal law passed by Congress to keep convicted sex offenders confined beyond the term of their prison sentences is Constitutional. The decision, however, does not foreclose the opportunity for the offenders from continuing to challenge their detention under other legal grounds.

Justice Breyer says there are sound reasons for the law adding that “The Federal Government, as custodian of its prisoners, has the constitutional power to act in order to protect nearby (and other) communities from the danger such prisoners may pose.”

Monday’s ruling falls under the Constitution’s “Necessary and Proper” Clause which Breyer offers five points of justification for upholding the law. “Taken together, these considerations lead us to conclude that the statute 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 but who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others.”

The ruling does not address claims that the law violates the offenders’ rights under other Constitutional protections including the 14th Amendment’s guarantee to equal protection and due process.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissent. They contend the law goes beyond the powers given the federal government by the Constitution. “To be sure, protecting society from violent sexual offenders is certainly an important end,” Thomas writes but continues by saying “the Constitution does not vest in Congress the authority to protect society from every bad act that might befall it.”

Solicitor General Elena Kagan, President Obama’s selection to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the high court, argued and won the case on behalf of the government.

BACKGROUNDER

Supreme Court to Review Law Targeting Sex Predators Monday, June 22, 2009 By Lee Ross

The Supreme Court announced Monday it will review a lower court’s order that struck down part of a federal law designed to keep sexual deviants locked up beyond their criminal sentences.

The Court’s decision will be welcome news to victim’s rights advocates and others who supported the 2006 law known as the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. A provision of that law allowed federal prosecutors to seek court-ordered “civil commitment” of sex offenders whose criminal sentences were about to end.

Earlier this year, a three judge appeals court panel in Richmond, Va. unanimously ruled that part of the law unconstitutional. They concluded the Constitution doesn’t allow the government to confine someone simply because it believes the person is sexually dangerous.

They said the government “has no unexhausted power to prosecute a former federal prisoner simply because he could violate [a law]; any person could violate federal law.”

In asking the Supreme Court to take the case, Solicitor General Elena Kagan defended the “important act of Congress” designed to protect Americans from people who are “sexually dangerous to others.” She argues the law is necessary and appropriate.

The primary purpose of the legislation was to create a national database of sex offenders.

“The goal of the act was to track these guys going across state lines,” says Ernie Allen President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

That part of the law is not under scrutiny nor are the civil commitment laws of at least 20 states.

The lawyers for five men each convicted of sexually-based crimes who remain imprisoned after their sentences expired asked the Court to deny further review. They argued there are other cases that would have provided the Court a better vehicle for examining the issue.

They also contend Congress does not have the authority to “institute new proceedings that extend federal power over an individual beyond that authorized by” the original conviction.

The Court will not hear the case until after its next term starts in October. However in April, Chief Justice John Roberts issued an order that keeps the men behind bars until the case is finally resolved.

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