Last month, a unanimous Supreme Court held that a Pennsylvania woman named Carol Bond may challenge a federal law under which she was prosecuted, on grounds that Congress had exceeded its powers and intruded upon the sovereignty and authority of the states. Until Bond v. United States, it was widely agreed that only states could advance such a claim. In fact, the federal government had taken that position in the courts below in Bond, changing course when the case reached the Supreme Court, where it agreed that Carol Bond indeed has “standing” to sue.

Now, a case about standing may seem like small beer. Yet Bond is important for what it says about federalism as we await the Supreme Court’s encounter, as early as next year, with the health care overhaul’s individual mandate.

In rejecting the view that only states may sue to enforce federalism, the Court, with Justice Kennedy writing, said that individuals have their “own constitutional interests” in avoiding injuries from laws exceeding congressional authority. “Unconstitutional action,” Kennedy wrote, “can cause concomitant injury to persons in individual cases”—just as Bond claims happened in her case. “Her rights in this regard do not belong to a State.”

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