Monday, November 17, 2008
On this day:

The dangerous federalization of crime

That's the title of this 1999 WSJ article by former Reagan AG Edwin Meese. Here's a taste:

For most of the nation’s history, federal criminal jurisdiction was limited to offenses that involved truly national matters, such as treason, counterfeiting, bribery of federal officials, and perjury in the federal courts. But in recent years, as Senator Joseph Biden has put it, “we federalize everything that walks, talks, and moves.”

That is not much of an exaggeration. Today there are more than three thousand federal crimes on the books. Hardly any crime, no matter how local in nature, is beyond the jurisdiction of federal law enforcement authorities. Federal crimes now range from serious but purely local offenses such as car jacking and church burning to trivial matters such as disrupting a rodeo or damaging a livestock facility. In 1994, one crime bill alone created two dozen new federal offenses. ...

Perhaps the most compelling reasons to oppose the federalization of crime are that it contradicts constitutional principles, undermines the state-federal fabric, and disrupts the important balance between the federal and state systems of justice. The drafters of the Constitution clearly intended the states to bear responsibility for public safety and what Alexander Hamilton called “the ordinary administration of criminal and civil justice.”

As the National Sheriffs Association recently stated, with every additional federal crime, “we’re getting closer to a federal police state. That’s what we fought against 200 years ago—this massive federal government involved in the lives of people on the local level.” The National District Attorneys Association expresses a similar view, saying that the trend “not only places an intolerable burden on the federal criminal justice system, but is changing the very nature of that system by intruding on cases that by every standard should be handled by local prosecutors."