High Court Upholds Ban on Body Armor

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down a bid to review a federal ban on body armor, providing a possible clue on how it will decide legal challenges to health care reform and perhaps other regulatory overhauls passed by Congress.

The high court decided against hearing an appeal by Cedrick Alderman, an ex-convict from Seattle. He was challenging a 2002 federal law making it a crime for former felons to possess bulletproof vests or other body armor. Alderman was sentenced to 18 months in prison after police in Washington state, in 2005, stopped him and discovered that he was wearing a bulletproof vest.

The Los Angeles Times said the key point before the Supreme Court concerned whether Congress had the power to enact a law regulating the possession of a product — in this instance, body armor. Alderman’s lawyers argued that the possession of a bulletproof vest had nothing to do with interstate commerce and, therefore, was beyond Congress’ power.

Lower courts, however, upheld the law and the Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision issued Monday, denied Alderman’s bid for a review. In an eight-page dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas, lamented that the court’s failure to review the law might let Congress “exercise police powers that our Constitution reserves to the states.”

The Times said the majority’s stance could foreshadow how the high court will deal with such issues as the pending court battles over President Obama’s health insurance law. The newspaper said the majority’s posture suggests that “the justices are not anxious to rein in Congress’ broad power to pass regulatory laws” under the Constitution’s commerce clause – a clause that is central to  the the constitutionality of the health care legislation.

As the Times noted, more than 20 states have joined lawsuits arguing that President Obama’s health care overhaul goes beyond Congress’ power because it requires Americans by 2014 to have some health insurance or pay a tax penalty. District judges have divided on the question, and the issue is expected to reach the Supreme Court in a year or two.

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