Lovers' triangle may have international implications

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: A line is needed to separate Congress from state laws

Can a love triangle in Pennsylvania have a debilitating affect on the United States’ ability to enter treaties?

If you accept the federal government’s position in a case heard Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court, the answer is yes.

At issue is the federal prosecution of Carol Anne Bond of Pennsylvania, who found out her husband was having an affair with her friend. Bond, a microbiologist, decided to get back at her former friend, Myrlinda Haynes, by sprinkling toxic chemicals she got from work on objects that Hayes would use, such as her front door knob, mailbox and car door handles.

As a result, Hayes suffered a chemical burn on her hand.

Haynes complained to police in her Philadelphia suburb about the poison chemicals. After they failed to act, she contacted the U.S. Postal Service, which caught Bond in its surveillance. Bond was prosecuted by federal authorities and received a six-year sentence after she pleaded guilty but retained the right to appeal. Her appeal was turned down in appellate courts, but made its way to the nation’s highest court on Tuesday.

And there is where Bond found what appeared to be a sympathetic group of justices — not in regard to what she did to her former friend, but in the way she was prosecuted. Federal prosecutors had brought their case against Bond under a 1998 law banning the use of chemical weapons other than for peaceful purposes.

And that has brought up some ticklish questions.

For instance, how much power does Congress have to enact laws that implement international treaties the U.S. government has signed? Should federal authorities have the right, because of a treaty, to prosecute a local case that has always been under the purview of state law? Does that give the federal government new police powers normally reserved for states?

And if this prosecution was legal, does it give the federal government the ability to, through an international treaty, encroach on state laws? This was an area that conservative justices explored Tuesday, with Justice Antonin Scalia asking whether Congress could ratify a treaty regarding same-sex marriage that would force all states to recognize those marriages, an issue that always has been a state-level decision. Justice Samuel Alito went a step further, suggesting the law could be used to outlaw the distribution of chocolate candy to trick-or-treaters because the chocolate could be fatal to a dog.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, representing the Obama administration, was said to be visibly irritated by the justices, arguing that any curtailment of congressional authority regarding treaties could have serious implications on U.S. foreign policy.

While a decision likely won’t be announced until next summer, the justices clearly saw abuse of federal authority in the case and the smart money is on the court drawing some sort of line in the sand on the issue. Congress, which these days can’t handle its own basic chores, does not need to be legislating state and local laws.

In the meantime, the entire situation could have been avoided if Haynes’ case had been given better attention at the local level so that Bond was prosecuted a state court on a state criminal charge. It was a local crime that should have been handled at the local level. Surely if the Postal Service could get the evidence, a local police detective could.

If only common sense could be legislated.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board