WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court on Monday upheld a law allowing the federal government to detain "sexually dangerous" prisoners indefinitely after they have served their sentence.
In a seven to two decision, the high court said the federal government can supersede the states and stay the release of a prisoner considered a risk to society.
The court decision came in response to a challenge to a 2006 law brought by four convicted sex offenders still being held two years after the date of their release on grounds that they were susceptible to committing new sexual crimes.
The federal government's position was argued before the court in January by US Solicitor General Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court.
The court had previously ruled that similar state statutes did not violate due process.
But in this case, it confined its decision to whether or not Congress could empower the federal government to override the states in these cases.
The court's four liberal judges voted in favor of this expansion of federal authority in cases where the state did not want to assume responsibility for the prisoner's continued detention.
"Taken together, these considerations lead us to conclude that the statute is a 'necessary and proper' means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned, and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned but who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others," the decision said.
But it added: "We do not reach or decide any claim that the statute or its application denies equal protection of the laws, procedural or substantive due process, or any other rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
"Respondents are free to pursue those claims on remand, and any others they have preserved," it said.
During arguments in January, Kagan argued that the legislation was only intended to be used in cases where states did not assume responsibility for "civil commitment" of convicts deemed likely to reoffend.
"This is not unusual, that the state takes custody," said Kagan.
"If the state does not, the federal government would ensure that the person will stay in federal custody," she added.
Defense lawyer Alan Dubois argued that the constitution only allowed the use of detention as "a punishment for a crime."
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