Nov. 21 (UPI) -- A federal judge ruled Tuesday to dismiss charges against a Michigan doctor accused of subjecting nine minor girls to female genital mutilation procedures.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that "as despicable as this practice may be," Congress overstepped its bounds by passing a 22-year-old federal law criminalizing female genital mutilation.
"As laudable as the prohibition of a particular type of abuse of girls may be ... federalism concerns deprive Congress of the power to enact this statute," Friedman wrote in his ruling.
He ruled the federal law is unconstitutional as the practice of female genital mutilation is a "local criminal activity" to be regulated by the states.
Friedman dismissed six of eight charges against Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, his wife, Farida Attar and five other residents of Michigan and Minnesota, including three mothers who transported their daughters to have the procedure performed.
Nagarwala is accused of performing the banned procedures on nine girls between the ages of 8 and 13 at Attar's clinic after it closed for the day and for instructing others not to speak about the procedures.
The defendants are all members of a small Indian Muslim sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra, which practices female circumcision.
The sect believes the procedure is a religious right of passage, stating it only involves a "nick."
Female genital mutilation -- the practice of ritual cutting or removal of external female genitalia-- has been outlawed in 30 countries and 27 states have laws that criminalize practice.
The U.S. federal statute had never been tested prior to this case and Nagarwala stated she committed no crime by practicing the procedure and was being charged under a law that passed through Congress without proper vetting.
"The law was never debated on the floor of either chamber of Congress nor was there ever any legislative hearing addressing the justification or need for the federal law. Instead, all that exists is the criminal statute itself," defense lawyers argued.
Gina Balaya, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorneys Office said the government is reviewing Friedman's opinion and would make a determination on whether or not to appeal in the future.
Nagarwala still faces charges of conspiring to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding. The case is set to go to trial in April 2019.