The Case of the Amorous Defendant: Criticizing Absolute Stare Decisis for Statutory Cases

Earlier in this the first year of the new millennium, Professor Larry Marshall was appointed Chief Justice of the United States. The first important case coming before the Marshall Court involved the government’s prosecution of Frankly Amorous under the White Slave Traffic Act of June 25, 1910 (the Mann Act), as amended. Defendant Amorous was a law student in Virginia who paid for the airplane ticket of his female lover to travel from North Carolina to Virginia for the admitted purpose of having extramarital sexual relations. The U.S. Attorney prosecuted Amorous for violating the Mann Act, which criminalizes the knowing transportation of “any individual in interstate or foreign commerce … with intent that such individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.”

The trial judge instructed the jury to convict Amorous if he paid for his lover’s transportation with the purpose of bringing her across state lines so that they could engage in extramarital sexual relations, which is a criminal offense in Virginia. The judge based the instruction on her reading of the Supreme Court’s 1917 interpretation of the statute in Caminetti v. United States, which held that the original version of the Mann Act criminalized a broad range of extramarital sexual relations as “immoral practice,” and the Court’s 1993 decision in Squalid v. United States, which held that the amended version of the Mann Act incorporates the Caminetti holding and should be read broadly to penalize any sexual activity considered “immoral” by “‘a relevant regulatory community.”