Military Spouse Residency Relief Act gives state citizenship to spouses, even if they do not live there

November 6th, 2009

At PrawsBlawg, Professor Baude discusses the potential constitutional problems of the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act:

Congress has passed a bill that would allow those married to members of the military to assert that they are residents of the same state as their spouse, regardless of the state they actually reside in.  The first thing I found myself wondering is how this interacts with the Fourteenth Amendment’s residency clause, which provides, that U.S. Citizens are “citizens . . . of the state wherein they reside.”  Presumably Congress lacks the power to change this clause, and allowing it to redefine the meaning of the word “reside” would allow it to do so.

The second thing I found myself wondering is what enumerated power allowed Congress to do this anyway.  Its power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment?  But Congress cannot “rewrite the Fourteenth amendment” in the guise of enforcing it.  Its power over the armed forces?  But military spouses– however difficult their lives may be– are not themselves members of the military, as the Court pointed out when holding that they could not be subjected to military justice.  The commerce power?  Only in the sense in which all interstate activity is interstate commerce, which would render the word “commerce” meaningless.

Would this bill fit into Section I of the Fourteenth Amendment? Could Congress claim this is part of their Section V enforcement power?