By Matt Kelley
Yesterday in a disappointing ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court green-lighted the federal practice of detaining sex offenders for years — even after their sentences end.
The court ruled 7-2 in United States v. Comstock that it was okay for Congress to allow authorities to continue imprisoning people after sentence completion, so long as a judge sees “clear and convincing” evidence that the person would be likely to re-offend.
It's not often that I agree with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, but as I wrote when this case was first argued, Scalia is right when he argues that the practice is unconstitutional.
Sadly, the two were the only ones to dissent in this latest ruling — the only ones to stand up for sensible sentencing practices and clear limits on the government’s power. As Thomas wrote, "The fact that the federal government has the authority to imprison a person for the purpose of punishing him for a federal crime — sex-related or otherwise — does not provide the government with the additional power to exercise indefinite civil control over that person.”
Sex offenders are already subject to frequently changing, and expanding, punishments. Sex offender registries keep getting bigger and bigger, and registration and residency requirements appear to be getting increasingly strict each year. Often, judges and juries sentence someone for a sex offense without knowing the nearly unlimited extent of the punishment to which that person's being condemned.
Although only 100 or so people are currently locked up past their sentences, that's 100 too many. Civil commitment is a backhanded maneuver that circumvents courts in order to extend punishment outside of the public eye.
In deciding Comstock yesterday, the court granted the federal government the power to incarcerate Americans without due process . Likewise, they also reinforced the dangerous notion that no punishment for sex offenders is ever too great.
- And that means they can lock you up without reason as well, just like they are doing with terrorists at Guantanamo.
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