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Enactment of Civil Commitment Statute Authorized Under Necessary and Proper Clause

By FindLaw Staff on May 17, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

US v. Comstock, No. 08-1224, involved civil commitment proceedings under 18 U.S.C. section 4248.  The Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit's affirmance of the district court's grant of respondents' motions to dismiss on the grounds that 1) the Necessary and Proper Clause granted Congress broad authority to pass laws in furtherance of its constitutionally enumerated powers; 2) Congress has long been involved in the delivery of mental health care to federal prisoners, and has long provided for their civil commitment; 3) there were sound reasons for section 4248's enactment; 4) section 4248 did not "invade" state sovereignty, but rather required accommodation of state interests; and 5) section 4248 was narrow in scope.

As the Court wrote:  "A federal civil-commitment statute authorizes the Department of Justice to detain a mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoner beyond the date the prisoner would otherwise be released. 18 U. S. C. §4248. We have previously examined similar statutes enacted under state law to determine whether they violate the Due Process Clause. See Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U. S. 346, 356-358 (1997); Kansas v. Crane, 534 U. S. 407 (2002). But this case presents a different question. Here we ask whether the Federal Government has the authority under Article I of the Constitution to enact this federal civil commitment program or whether its doing so falls beyond the reach of a government "of enumerated powers." McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 405 (1819). We conclude that the Constitution grants Congress the authority to enact §4248 as "necessary and proper for carrying into Execution" the powers "vested by" the "Constitution in the Government of the United States." Art. I, §8, cl. 18.

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