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UNITED STATES v. COMSTOCK ( No. 08-1224 )
551 F. 3d 274, reversed and remanded
Federal law allows a district court to order the civil commitment of a mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoner beyond the date he would otherwise be released. 18 U. S. C. §4248. The Government instituted civil-commitment proceedings under §4248 against respondents, each of whom moved to dismiss on the ground, inter alia, that, in enacting the statute, Congress exceeded its powers under the Necessary and Proper Clause, U. S. Const., Art. I, §8, cl. 18. Agreeing, the District Court granted dismissal, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed on the legislative-power ground.
Held: The Necessary and Proper Clause grants Congress authority sufficient to enact §4248. Taken together, five considerations compel this conclusion. Pp. 5-22.
JUSTICE ALITO , concurring in the judgment.
I am concerned about the breadth of the Court's language, see ante , at 2-4 ( KENNEDY , J., concurring in judgment), and the ambiguity of the standard that the Court applies, see post , at 9 ( THOMAS , J., dissenting), but I am persuaded, on narrow grounds, that it was "necessary and proper" for Congress to enact the statute at issue in this case, 18 U. S. C. §4248, in order to "carr[y] into Execution" powers specifically conferred on Congress by the Constitution, see Art. I, §8, cl. 18.
Justice Thomas , with whom Justice Scalia joins in all but Part III–A–1–b, dissenting.
The Court holds today that Congress has power under the Necessary and Proper Clause to enact a law authorizing the Federal Government to civilly commit “sexually dangerous person[s]” beyond the date it lawfully could hold them on a charge or conviction for a federal crime. 18 U. S. C. §4248(a). I disagree. The Necessary and Proper Clause empowers Congress to enact only those laws that “carr[y] into Execution” one or more of the federal powers enumerated in the Constitution. Art. I, §8, cl. 18. Because §4248 “Execut[es]” no enumerated power, I must respectfully dissent.
GRAHAM v. FLORIDA ( No. 08-7412 )
982 So. 2d 43, reversed and remanded.
Petitioner Graham was 16 when he committed armed burglary and another crime. Under a plea agreement, the Florida trial court sentenced Graham to probation and withheld adjudication of guilt. Subsequently, the trial court found that Graham had violated the terms of his probation by committing additional crimes. The trial court adjudicated Graham guilty of the earlier charges, revoked his probation, and sentenced him to life in prison for the burglary. Because Florida has abolished its parole system, the life sentence left Graham no possibility of release except executive clemency. He challenged his sentence under the Eighth Amendment ’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, but the State First District Court of Appeal affirmed.
Held: The Clause does not permit a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for a nonhomicide crime. Pp. 7–31.
Justice Thomas , with whom Justice Scalia joins, and with whom Justice Alito joins as to Parts I and III, dissenting.
The Court holds today that it is “grossly disproportionate” and hence unconstitutional for any judge or jury to impose a sentence of life without parole on an offender less than 18 years old, unless he has committed a homicide. Although the text of the Constitution is silent regarding the permissibility of this sentencing practice, and although it would not have offended the standards that prevailed at the founding, the Court insists that the standards of American society have evolved such that the Constitution now requires its prohibition.
The news of this evolution will, I think, come as a surprise to the American people. Congress, the District of Columbia, and 37 States allow judges and juries to consider this sentencing practice in juvenile nonhomicide cases, and those judges and juries have decided to use it in the very worst cases they have encountered.
The Court does not conclude that life without parole itself is a cruel and unusual punishment. It instead rejects the judgments of those legislatures, judges, and juries regarding what the Court describes as the “moral” question of whether this sentence can ever be “proportionat[e]” when applied to the category of offenders at issue here. Ante , at 7 (internal quotation marks omitted), ante , at 1 ( Stevens, J., concurring).