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Differing Reports on US v Comstock Hearing

January 12, 2010

Sentencing Law & Policy: Different perspective on the Justices’ take on federal sex offender civil commitment.

The early reporting on today’s SCOTUS oral argument in Comstock (basics here) provide quite distinct takes on what the Justices are thinking. Consider the lead of this Bloomberg report, which is headlined “Sex-Offender Commitment Law Gets Support at U.S. Supreme Court”:

U.S. Supreme Court justices signaled they are likely to uphold a national law that permits the civil commitment of “sexually dangerous” people after they complete their federal prison terms. Hearing arguments today in Washington, most of the nine justices suggested they viewed Congress as having the constitutional power to enact the law. A federal appeals court said the 2006 measure, under which more than 100 people have been held, exceeded Congress’s authority.

But now consider the lead of this Reuters report, which is headlined “U.S. justices question sex offender confinement law”:

Supreme Court justices on Tuesday expressed skepticism about the Obama administration’s argument that the U.S. Congress can keep sex offenders in custody for an indefinite time beyond their prison sentences.

I suppose we will all just have to read the transcripts of the Comstock oral argument, which is now available here.

Excerpts:

JUSTICE SCALIA: I mean, this — this is a recipe for the Federal Government taking over everything.

JUSTICE SCALIA: But most of the argument for why this is constitutional is simply: It’s necessary, and therefore it’s constitutional. But I’m not even sure it’s necessary.

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