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Standing in the Jailhouse Door

Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island named his son Lincoln, but maybe he should have named him Calhoun, after the South Carolina leader who believed states could nullify federal laws.  George Wallace would have been an even better namesake, but Wallace's infamous stand in the schoolhouse door did not come until a decade after Lincoln Chafee was born.

So now Lincoln Chafee wants to keep a murderer out of the hands of the federal government because that government wants to enforce a law that Chafee happens to disagree with, the law providing for capital punishment for certain federal offenses resulting in death.

Sheri Qualters has this story in the NLJ on oral argument in the First Circuit last Thursday in United States v. Pleau.

In November 2010, Pleau was charged in federal court for the Sept. 20, 2010, murder and robbery of David Main in Woonsocket, R.I, as he was making a deposit at a bank.

The Dec. 14, indictment included three charges: robbery affecting interstate commerce; conspiracy to commit robbery affecting interstate commerce; and possessing, using, carrying, and discharging a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, death resulting.
Now if someone wanted to argue that Congress cannot make this crime a federal offense, that would be a principled position, although contrary to post-1937 Supreme Court precedent.  But that is not Chafee's objection.  He only objects to the death penalty because Rhode Island has chosen not to have it.  But Rhode Island does not get to veto the United States's choice of punishment for federal offenses that happen to occur within the boundaries of Rhode Island.  So the argument involves technical questions on the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act.

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