CIR represented Kathryn Miller, an Amish woman appealing her conviction for the federal “hate crime” of participating in the forcible cutting of the beards and hair of other Amish for religious reasons. CIR contended that Congress lacked the authority under the Commerce Clause to prosecute purely instate conduct (such as assault) unless the crime affected interstate commerce in a non-trivial way.
In this case, the government implausibly contended that because the Walmart clippers used to cut the beards once crossed state lines (and, alternatively, because the defendants traveled in cars), the U.S. Attorney had the authority to prosecute Ms. Miller under the federal hate crimes statute.
Underlying CIR’s position in US v. Miller is the principle that our constitutional form of government is built on the idea of limited authority. The Constitution, embodying the belief that a government which is dispersed protects freedom best, grants to the federal government only certain, enumerated powers. All other power is reserved to the states (subject to the Bill of Rights) and to the people.
In contrast, the government took the position that the federal government has the authority to regulate an assault involving Ohio citizens entirely within the borders of Ohio solely because of peripheral facts about where Walmart procured the clippers that it sold in its Ohio stores. In CIR’s view, the government’s theory of Congress’ Commerce Clause powers was so broad that it effectively gutted the Commerce Clause. If Congress could regulate the use of any object that ever crossed state lines, then there is nothing that Congress could not regulate.
CIR’s client, Kathryn Miller, was charged along with five other women and ten men with violating a federal hate crimes statute for the hair cutting incidents that took place in 2011. All were members of a small Amish community in Bergholz, Ohio. After a jury trial, Miller was found guilty and sentenced to serve one year and one day in prison; others were sentenced for periods of up to seven years.