Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Gonzalez v. Raich

I've had some time to look over a lot of the details concerning yesterday's ruling about medical marijuana, and it's a lot more complicated case than people are giving it credit for. I now understand where the majority opinion comes from, and where the dissent comes from as well.

In 1942, the Commerce Power of Congress was tested in Wickard v. Filburn. Filburn was a wheat farmer in Ohio who grew about twice the amount of wheat permitted by the Department of Agriculture quota. He was supposed to be limited to 11.1 acres, and he grew almost 12 acres on top of that. Filburn's argument was that since the wheat was for use only on his farm, it was not subject to the interstate commerce laws. He lost the case, though, because the court found that if all wheat farmers, on the aggregate, did the same thing as Filburn, the result would have a tangible impact on interstate wheat commerce. None of those wheat farmers would buy wheat from the market, which would drive prices down and affect the wheat trade at large.

The Commerce Power of Congress, enumerated by the commerce clause in the Constitution, has been used for a lot of things, and for a long time it was pretty much unlimited. But in United States v. Lopez, that commerce power was ultimately limited. Lopez was charged with bringing a handgun and bullets to school, thus violating the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act, and it was the constitutionality of this act that was called into question. Congress argued that this law fell under the commerce clause because guns at school would decrease the quality of education, thus producing a less capable citizenry and a weaker economy. This argument was found wanting, as was a similar argument that the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 fell under the commerce clause (United States v. Morrison).

So recently, the commerce power of the United States has been limited. Prior to 1995, with Lopez, Congress seemed able to make pretty much whatever law it wanted, so long as it could thinly justify it with the commerce clause. The majority opinion, however, used Wickard as its main rationale in the recent decision. Their argument was that marijuana has an interstate market (though illegal) which would be adversely affected by the legalization of medicinal marijuana in certain states, and that it's in the best interests of Congress to regulate that market.

The dissenting opinion (written by O'Connor) doesn't dismiss Wickard, but rather takes note of the fact that with Wickard, the statutes exempted plantings less than six acres from falling under the commerce clause. As she puts it, "Wickard, then, did not extend Commerce Clause authority to something as modest as the home cook’s herb garden."

I happen to agree with the dissenting opinion, as is probably obvious from my previous post about the subject. For the main reason that I do, I'll refer you to another quote from O'Connor's dissenting opinion:

"One of federalism’s chief virtues, of course, is that it promotes innovation by allowing for the possibility that “a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 311 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting)."
Now I'm no government-fearing conservative, but I do believe that there have got to be some clearly defined lines between the roles of the federal governments and of the state governments. Otherwise, why are we going to bother having states at all? And why, then, couldn't they change state laws that would affect my life further, like keeping the liquor stores in Connecticut open past 9:00 and on Sundays?

And I don't know if anybody considered this, but wouldn't the legalization of marijuana considerably boost the interstate munchie trade?