Making a Federal Case of It
Over the years, Congress has consistently increased the jurisdiction of federal courts over crime, from 17 specified offenses when the nation was founded to several thousand now. More than 40% of federal criminal provisions enacted since the Civil War have appeared since 1970. The most dramatic growth was in drug cases, which composed 5% of the federal caseload in 1947 but amounted to 36 percent just 50 years later. An Armed Career Criminal Act in 1984 allowed federal prosecutors to charge suspects who had three local felony convictions. Later laws made carjacking a federal crime and gave the FBI authority over “deadbeat dads” who cross state lines and terrorism involving abortion clinics. A few measures were struck down by the Supreme Court, including one involving use of firearms at schools and another allowing federal civil cases by sexual‐assault victims. In the executive branch, the administration of President George H. W. Bush created a program called ‘Operation Triggerlock’ to pursue firearms cases, and both Bush and successor Bill Clinton directed the FBI to put more emphasis on investigating local violent crime. By 2001, the federal government had taken a prominent role in many categories of crime prosecution that once were the province of states and localities.
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