By ADAM LIPTAK, The New York Times
WASHINGTON â€” TheÂ Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in a case that touched on the most pressing constitutional question of the day: just how much power does Congress have to regulate matters ordinarily left up to the states? The fate ofÂ President Obamaâ€™s health care law will turn on how that question is answered.
But based on the justicesâ€™ comments, the lurid facts of the case and the odd posture in which it reached the court, the eventual decision will probably offer only limited guidance on the health care lawâ€™s prospects.
The case heard Tuesday, Bond v. United States, No. 09-1227, arose from a domestic dispute. Carol A. Bond, a Pennsylvania woman, did not take it well when she learned that her husband was the father of her best friendâ€™s child. She promised to make her former friendâ€™s life â€œa living hell,â€ and she drew on her skills as a microbiologist to do so.
Ms. Bond spread harmful chemicals on her friendâ€™s car, mailbox and doorknob. The friend suffered only a minor injury.
Such matters are usually handled by the local police and prosecutors. In Ms. Bondâ€™s case, though, federal prosecutors charged her with using unconventional weapons in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, a treaty concerned with terrorists and rogue states.
At the argument, JusticeÂ Samuel A. Alito Jr. suggested that Congress had gone too far. Suppose, he said, that Ms. Bond had â€œdecided to retaliate against her former friend by pouring a bottle of vinegar in the friendâ€™s goldfish bowl.â€
â€œAs I read this statute, Justice Alito said, â€œthat would be a violation of this statute, potentially punishable by life imprisonment.â€
Ms. Bondâ€™s lawyer, Paul D. Clement, said that a chemical used by his client was not much more exotic than vinegar. â€œThere is something sort of odd about the governmentâ€™s theory that says that I can buy a chemical weapon at Amazon.com,â€ he said.
In her appeal to the federal appeals court in Philadelphia, Ms. Bond argued that Congress did not have the constitutional power to use a chemical weapons treaty to address a matter of a sort routinely handled by state authorities. She cited the 10th Amendment, which says that â€œthe powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.â€
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