The DOJ should not prosecute the synagogue shooter

The federal criminal complaint against accused Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers charges him with 29 felonies, including 11 violations of 18 USC 247, which authorizes the death penalty for fatally obstructing any person’s “free exercise of religious beliefs.” Such a crime can be prosecuted in federal court as long as it “is in or affects interstate or foreign commerce.”

To give you a sense of how loose that requirement is, the complaint asserts that it’s met because the guns Bowers used “were not manufactured in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” and therefore must have “traveled in interstate commerce.” Federal courts also have held that a church’s involvement in interstate commerce, such as hosting visitors or ordering Sunday school materials from other states, is enough to justify invoking this statute when someone vandalizes the church.

Such a broad understanding of the congressional power to regulate interstate commerce obliterates the distinction between state and federal authority recognized in the 10th Amendment. If Congress has the power to regulate anything related to interstate commerce, no matter how trivially or tangentially, what crime can’t be federalized?