Can a jilted wife be charged in federal court for violating a treaty banning chemical weapons?
Carol Ann Bond found out her husband was having an affair. In response, she sprinkled toxic chemical weapons on the car belonging to the mistress. This is a state-level crime in Pennsylvania, where the incident occurred, but can the federal government prosecute her under the terms of an international convention?
It is an interesting debate, considering how much the treaty has been in the news lately. However, we are not talking about Syria now, rather an upset 34-year-old Philadelphia suburbanite who happened to work at a chemical manufacturing company.
The case has many sides, all of which were explored in oral arguments on Tuesday. Were Bond’s actions outlawed by the international treaty? As a criminal matter, was prosecution the prerogative of the state rather than the federal government?
And, most wide-reaching, can Congress ratify such a treaty, making it the supreme law of the land, superseding… well, just about everything else?
That question is asking for a review of Missouri v. Holland, the law of the land since the 1920s, in which the Supreme Court decided that it was up to the federal government to engage in foreign relations in the national interest since states could not practically do so themselves.
According to Virginia Solicitor General Duncan Getchell, Missouri v. Holland is an example of overreach by the federal government in attempting to exercise power intended for the states.
“I don’t think this is a… reasonably drawn statute to implement the purpose and the terms of the which, after all, has to do with state actors and the use of chemical weapons,” said Getchell, who co-authored an amicus brief on behalf of 11 states. “Nobody reasonably ought to be subject to prosecution under the treaty or the federal act.”