Split High Court Upholds Federal Sex Offender Law

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Authority of Law Statue, in front of Supreme Court building, Washington. Photo by Matt Wade via Flickr

The Supreme Court has upheld the scope of a federal sex offender registration law, CNN reports. The 2006 Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) requires sex offenders to register with a national sex offender registry and update their registration when they travel or move.

Herman Gundy argued that Congress had unlawfully left it up to the attorney general to determine the law’s application to those who were convicted before its enactment. A 5-3 opinion disagreed, saying that Congress had properly transferred its power to another branch of government when it passed the law.

“Indeed, if SORNA’s delegation is unconstitutional, then most of Government is unconstitutional—dependent as Congress is on the need to give discretion to executive officials to implement its programs,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for four Justices in the June 20 ruling.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for dissenters, declared that Congress “may never hand off to the nation’s chief prosecutor the power to write his own criminal code.” Gorsuch said that before the federal law was enacted, Gundy pleaded guilty to a sex crime.

After his release from prison five years later, he was arrested again, this time for failing to register as a sex offender according to rules the Attorney General had issued for offenders convicted before the law went into effect.

Gundy faced an additional 10-year prison term, 10 years more than if the Attorney General had chosen to write the rules differently, Gorsuch said. Justice Samuel Alito agreed with the case’s result but did not join Kagan’s opinion. Only eight justices heard the case because it was argued before Justice Brett Kavanaugh took the bench.

The opinion breakdown suggests that the issue may be revisited in a future case heard by a full, nine-member court.

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