The Wall Street Journal is running an excellent editorial discussing United States v. Comstock and its implications for future Commerce Clause decisions. The Los Angeles Times and UPI are also running editorials about Comstock. From the WSJ op-ed:
The question in U.S. v. Comstock is whether sex offenders who have already completed their federal criminal sentences may then see their incarceration extended through a process of "civil commitment" by the federal government. The law in question, the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection Act, allows the Attorney General to certify a person as a danger to the population and keep him in federal custody. The law tramples on the traditional power of states to protect public health and safety.
At oral argument, Solicitor General Elena Kagan argued that federal authority comes from its responsibility to maintain the criminal justice system, and that Congress may make all laws that are "necessary and proper" to execute its other Constitutionally vested powers. But civil commitment and criminal incarceration are different realms of enforcement: Those who have already served their legally prescribed sentences ought no longer be within reach of federal authorities.
The implications go well beyond sex offenders. To do as the Obama Administration asks would be to grant the federal government broad power in the criminal context. In the case of Graydon Comstock, who had been sentenced to three years in jail for purchasing child pornography, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Congress lacked Constitutional authority to recommit him after he had done his federal time.
If the Supreme Court reverses the lower court's decision, it will sanction the notion that nearly any appealing idea may be justified as necessary and proper. In other countries, loose detention laws give wide latitude to authorities to lock up any number of people who "threaten the public safety," including political prisoners. Maybe next the feds could force everyone in America to buy health insurance.