Congress overstepped its authority when it allowed the federal government to hold sex offenders in custody indefinitely beyond the end of their prison terms, says a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruling reported by the Associated Press. The law allowing civil commitment of “sexually dangerous” federal inmates intrudes on police powers that the Constitution reserves for states, said the court.
The 4th Circuit was the first federal appeals court to rule on the issue. Courts in Hawaii, Oklahoma, and Massachusetts have upheld the measure. The issue may end up being decided by the Supreme Court. The appeals court found no merit in the government’s argument that it had constitutional authority to enact the civil commitment law under the Commerce Clause, ruling that “sexual dangerousness does not substantially affect interstate commerce.” The court said that federal authorities concerned about a soon-to-be-released inmate’s sexual dangerousness can notify state officials, who can pursue civil commitment under state law.