Jan 28, 2016
In today's news is the story of a guy whom the Feds really wanted to nail to the proverbial wall. See, once upon a time Dennis Mahon of the White Aryan Resistance of Arizona planted a pipe bomb at an office in Scottsdale, Arizona. Not just any office, mind you. No, this office was a "Diversity" office. What in blazes is a "Diversity" office? Well, as it turns out it was Scottsdale's answer to bringing in tourism to its fair city. Just so we're clear, as the definition of diversity goes, this office was not diversified at all. In fact, its purpose was to facilitate the sale of tickets to local events and helped fill local hotels with visitors. That's it.
Anyway, Mr. Mahon's pipe bomb found it's way into Scottsdale's "Diversity" office. When the "Diversity" office's director opened the box containing the bomb, off it went severely injuring 3 people. Really rotten thing sending a pipe bomb to the "Diversity" office but what really stinks is what happened to Mr. Mahon. See, there are two ways to get a case into Federal court. First, you can have diversity of jurisdiction (meaning people are from different states), or second, you have a Federal question (meaning a legal issues related to the Constitution). In this case, it seems, Mr. Mahon made a whole lot of people hopping mad. As such, Mr. Mahon was charged with violating 18 USC 844 (i) and (n); both of which deal with the commerce clause - a Federal question. Subsequently, Mr. Mahon is now cooling his heels in a FEDERAL prison to the tune of 40 years. Ouch!
What makes US v. Mahon such a taffy pull of a case is that this case has NOTHING to do with Federal law but the court streeeeeeetched the law to fit their purposes (which was to nail Mr. Mahon to the wall for being a white supremacist). The ONLY reason it is in Federal court is because someone really had it out for this guy. I mean, based on the reasoning of the court, it could be argued that anyone who sells or buys tickets from a person or organization in another state could be held under the commerce clause - your house would be subject to the commerce clause, your kids clubhouse, heck even if you send out invitations to a baby shower from your car - it can all be classified as a location falling under the commerce clause.
The problem with decisions like these is that they are reckless and can reach into areas no one even dreamed about. This time it's a pipe bomb that hurts people. Next time it could be a politicians wife was not invited to a baby shower and she get's her husband to invoke the commerce clause to punish the little old ladies who didn't invite her. Too far fetched? Don't think the Fed's will do whatever they can to reach out and throw you in the slammer? They did it to Mr. Mahon and they'll do it to you. So watch and beware!
Bret is a Legal Research & Instructional Services Librarian at our Main Library.