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US v Cooper

4-10-2014 Delaware:

US v Cooper

Keith Allen Cooper (“Cooper”) is a sex offender who was convicted of rape in Oklahoma and paroled prior to the enactment of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA” or the “Act”), Pub.L. No. 109–248, 120 Stat. 587, 590–611 (2006) (codified primarily at 18 U.S.C. § 2250 & 42 U.S.C. § 16901 et seq .). After Congress enacted SORNA, Cooper was convicted of failing to comply with the sex offender registration requirements set forth in SORNA. In bringing this appeal, Cooper invokes the nondelegation doctrine, challenging the constitutionality of the provision of SORNA in which Congress delegated to the Attorney General the authority to determine the applicability of the Act's registration requirements to pre-SORNA sex offenders.

We conclude that SORNA does not violate the nondelegation doctrine. Accordingly, we will affirm Cooper's conviction.

In 1999, Cooper was convicted in Oklahoma state court on three counts of rape in the first degree. Cooper was paroled in January 2006. As required by pre-SORNA law, he registered as a sex offender in Oklahoma on or around January 20, 2006.

In July 2006, Congress enacted SORNA, which requires sex offenders to comply with specific registration requirements and to update registration information in the event of a change of name, address, employment, or student status. Pursuant to the promulgation of an administrative rule on February 28, 2007, and subsequent issuance of a final rule, the Attorney General made SORNA's registration requirements applicable to individuals (such as Cooper) who were convicted of sex offenses prior to the enactment of SORNA.

In or around early 2011, Cooper moved from Oklahoma to Delaware. Although SORNA required Cooper to notify authorities of this change in residence, Cooper did not provide either Oklahoma or Delaware authorities with his updated residence information, nor did he separately register as a sex offender in Delaware after moving there.

In 2012, Cooper was arrested and charged with one count of failure to register as a sex offender, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a), in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. On November 2, 2012, Cooper moved to dismiss the indictment on the basis that, inter alia, SORNA's delegation of authority to the Attorney General to determine the applicability of the Act's registration requirements to pre-SORNA sex offenders violates the nondelegation doctrine and thus is unconstitutional. The District Court denied Cooper's motion to dismiss.

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Relevant to this appeal, SORNA makes it a federal crime for any person who is required to register, and who travels in interstate or foreign commerce, to knowingly fail to register or to update registration. 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a).1 Once a sex offender is subject to SORNA's registration requirements, that offender can be convicted under § 2250 if he thereafter engages in interstate or foreign travel and then fails to register. See Carr v. United States, 560 U.S. 438, 447, 130 S.Ct. 2229, 176 L.Ed.2d 1152 (2010).

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It may well be, as Justice Scalia has written, that in delegating this responsibility to the Attorney General, Congress “sail[ed] close to the wind with regard to the principle that legislative powers are nondelegable.” Reynolds v. United States, ––– U.S. ––––, ––––, 132 S.Ct. 975, 986, 181 L.Ed.2d 935 (2012) (Scalia, J., dissenting). Indeed, we are puzzled as to why Congress decided to delegate to the Attorney General the authority to determine the applicability of SORNA's registration requirements to pre-SORNA offenders. The decision to make SORNA's registration requirements applicable to pre-Act offenders is a weighty one—particularly for the class of pre-SORNA offenders affected by that decision. Although we find Congress' delegation of this important decision curious at best, we hold that it does not amount to an unconstitutional abdication.

Under controlling nondelegation doctrine jurisprudence, the hurdle for the government in this case is not high.6 Applying the precedential authority on the nondelegation doctrine, we conclude that SORNA's delegation to the Attorney General in 42 U.S.C. § 16913(d) does not violate the nondelegation doctrine. Accordingly, we will affirm.

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