Federalism as Individual Right
Coining Money and Criminalization

Jones v. United States

Out of respect for separation of powers, the Supreme Court will construe a statute narrowly to avoid constitutional questions.  Out of respect for principles of federalism, the Court will construe a statute that disrupts the federal-state power balance narrowly, in an effort to minimize the federal-state conflict.  Thus, federalism plays a role in statutory interpretation  -- When Congress enacts a law that  eclipses and makes irrelevant state power, this rule may apply.

Thus, in Jones v. United States the Supreme Court held that the federal arson statute did not apply to the burning of a non-commercial residence because to interpret this statute so broadly would have raised significant constitutional defects in light of Lopez and Morrison.

What were these defects?

The value of the home burned in Jones was approximately $87,000.    An insurance company would presumably pay the claim on that home.   Thus, Jones’ burning of the home would directly and proximately cause the payment of a substantial sum of money.  Applying the aggregate effects test, we can say the burning of non-commercial residences would cause millions of dollars a year in insurance payments to policy holders/arson victims.

Thus, the burning of private homes seem to me a clear and significant nexus to interstate commerce.  The Court disagreed, though it's arguments were unpersuasive.

Sabri v. United States & $80,000

At oral argument in Sabri v. United States (No. 03-44), several Justices intimated that  that bribes to local officials would substantially affect interstate commerce.  The nexus would be that businesses would not want to do business with people or municipalities that engaged in public corruption.  Thus, applying the aggregate effects test, the conduct (bribing city councilpersons) substantially affects  interstate commerce.  The three bribes at issue were $5,000; $10,000; and $80,000.

Does it mean that every commercial transaction over $80,000 is interstate commerce?  If that is the case, then what was the problem in Jones v. United States?

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