The Case of the Poisoned Mailbox

A love triangle has become a Supreme Court test of state versus federal authority.

, The National Law Journal

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Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr.

She was a woman wronged, doubly betrayed by a cheating husband who impregnated her best friend. They were aggressive Feds, willing to wield the law like a sledgehammer. An act of revenge brought them together and thrust them on the road to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And now, a scenario right out of a Lifetime television movie has morphed into a major constitutional challenge.

The combination of a mailbox and toxic chemicals transformed an assault stemming from a domestic dispute into a federal prosecution under the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998. And in the nation's high court, that prosecution now pits the federal government against states, protective of their sovereign right to criminalize and prosecute assaults of the kind committed.

On November 5, the justices will hear arguments for a second time in Bond v. U.S., but the issue this time is different and carries significantly greater ramifications for states, Congress, the president and our international treaty partners:

Does Congress exceed its constitutional power to implement international treaties if the implementing legislation intrudes on a state's traditional powers?

A key guidepost for the court is a venerable 93-year-old precedent, Missouri v. Holland, which a number of states and libertarian and conservative groups urge the court to overrule, while its defense is mounted by international law scholars, former State Department officials and Chemical Weapons Convention negotiators.

The justices appeared to find the story behind the case startling the first time. As Justice Samuel Alito Jr. noted during the arguments two years ago: "Pouring a bottle of vinegar in the friend's goldfish bowl" could land a person in a federal prison for the rest of his or her life under the federal law at the core of the case.

Carol Anne Bond emigrated from Barbados in 1995 and found a home with her husband and adopted daughter in Lansdale, Pa., 28 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Bond also found in nearby Norristown, Pa., another Barbados immigrant, Myrlinda Haynes, a "sister," a soul mate. And so when Bond, who could not have children, learned that Haynes was pregnant, she was thrilled for her friend. That is, until Bond also discovered that the father was her own husband.

That discovery, says her lawyer, triggered an emotional breakdown. And in the middle of her breakdown, Bond decided to punish her former friend. A microbiologist, she purchased ­potassium dichromate from Amazon.com and stole a bottle of an arsenic-based chemical from her employer, Rohm and Haas Co.

Between November 2006 and June 2007, Bond spread the chemicals on Haynes' car door, mailbox and doorknob. But the chemicals' colors alerted Haynes, who ultimately suffered nothing worse than a burn on her thumb. She complained to the local police and postal inspectors. The latter installed surveillance cameras around her home that captured Bond stealing a letter from Haynes' mailbox and stuffing potassium dichromate into the muffler of Haynes' car.

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