By The Wall Street Journal.com
More than 98,000 – and counting – people across the country have signed onto a virtual campaign calling for a new federal law that would make it a felony for parents not to alert police of a child’s disappearance.
The online petition, started by an Oklahoman woman less than 24 hours ago on a social change website, comes on the heels of the Casey Anthony trial in which the jury reached a “not guilty” verdict on first-degree murder charges Tuesday. (The jury convicted her on four counts of lying to investigators; she will be sentenced Thursday.)
The petition is the fastest-growing campaign that has ever been hosted on the site and is causing website traffic problems, a spokesman for Change.org told the Law Blog.
It calls for the creation of a new federal statute called “Caylee’s Law” – named after Anthony’s deceased daughter – that would make it a felony for parents not to report the death of a child to law enforcement within an hour of discovering the incident, or within 24 hours in the case of child disappearance.
But some question the constitutionality of such a proposed law. Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law scholar at Harvard, points out that criminal laws usually fall within the realm of state jurisdictions.
When Congress does enact them, however, it does so under the Constitution’s commerce clause, which applies to cases that significantly impact interstate commerce. Tribe posits that the proposed “Caylee’s Law” would fail to meet that test and would not hold up at the federal level.
“This is an understandable reaction to…a verdict that people feel unsatisfied with, but violating the constitution would hardly solve the problem,” Tribe told the Law Blog. “There is no basis I can see for any congressional power to deal in this broad way with all cases of injury – and perhaps fatal injury – to children.”
The proposal stems from details in the Anthony case: Caylee first went missing on June 16, 2008, but her grandmother only notified the police a month later. Trial spectators reacted with anger and disappointment to the jury’s verdict, upset by the prospect that Anthony might soon walk free after spending two and a half years in prison waiting for trial, the AP reports.
In the past hour alone, nearly ten thousand people have signed the virtual petition. Anthony’s lawyer could not be immediately reached for comment.