U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Right of Individuals to Challenge Federal Laws Interfering with State Sovereignty

In Bond v. United States, the Supreme Court held that private individuals – not only the states – had standing to challenge federal laws as violating state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment.  In this case, a woman had been criminally prosecuted by the federal government under a statute implementing an inernational treaty regulating chemical weapons.  The lower courts had ruled that the defendant did not have standing to challenge the statute on the grounds that it improperly interfered with the powers reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment.  The Court reversed, holding that an individual was a proper party to challenge a law on those grounds, even if a state itself did not object to the law.  The Court spoke powerfully of the primary reason for judicial enforcement of federalism being the protection of the individual from centralized power:

“Federalism secures the freedom of the individual.  It allows States to respond, through  the enactment of positive  law, to the initiative of those who seek a voice in shaping the destiny of their own times without having to rely solely upon the political processes that control a remote central power. . . . Federalism also protects the liberty of all persons within a State by ensuring that laws enacted in excess of dele­gated governmental power cannot direct or control their actions.  By denying any one government com­plete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life, feder­alism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power.  When government acts in excess of its lawful powers, that liberty is at stake.”

The Court further noted that these interests are not those of the states alone: “States are not the sole intended beneficiaries of federalism.  An individual has a direct interest in objecting to laws that upset the constitutional balance between the National Government and the States when the enforcement of those laws causes injury that is concrete, particular, and redressable. Fidelity to principles of federalism is not for the States alone to vindicate.”