By Pejman Yousefzadeh Posted in D.C. v. Heller | Law | The Second Amendment — Comments (4) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
What comes next now that the Supreme Court has handed down its ruling in Heller? Professor Randy Barnett has a good editorial that lays out the nature of the legal fights ahead:
Two important practical issues remain. First, will this ruling also apply to states and municipalities? That will depend on whether the Supreme Court decides to "incorporate" the right to keep and bear arms into the 14th Amendment. But in the middle of his opinion Justice Scalia acknowledges that the 39th Congress that enacted the 14th Amendment did so, in part, to protect the individual right to arms of freedmen and Southern Republicans so they might defend themselves from violence.
My prediction: This ruling will eventually be extended to the states.
Second, how will the court deal with firearms regulations that fall short of a ban? The majority opinion strongly suggests that such regulations must now be subjected to meaningful judicial scrutiny. The exact nature of this scrutiny is not clear, but Justice Scalia explicitly rejects the extremely deferential "rationality" review advocated by Justice Stephen Breyer.
Most likely, gun laws will receive the same sort of judicial scrutiny that is now used to evaluate "time, place and manner" regulations of speech and assembly. Such regulations of First Amendment freedoms are today upheld if they are narrowly tailored to achieve a truly important government purpose, but not if they are really a pretext for undermining protected liberties.
My prediction? Because gun-rights groups like the NRA have so successfully prevented enactment of unreasonable gun laws, most existing gun regulations falling short of a ban will eventually be upheld. But more extreme or merely symbolic laws that are sometimes proposed - whose aim is to impose an "undue burden" by raising the cost of gun production, ownership and sale - would likely be found unconstitutional. All gun regulations - for example, safe storage laws and licensing - will have to be shown to be consistent with an effective right of self-defense by law-abiding citizens.
If any of these things happen, then Heller's status as a truly consequential ruling will only be emphasized, of course.
Read on . . .
Relatedly, the following deserves attention:
Justice Scalia's opinion is exemplary for the way it was reasoned. It will be studied by law professors and students for years to come. It is the clearest, most careful interpretation of the meaning of the Constitution ever to be adopted by a majority of the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia begins with the text, and carefully parses the grammatical relationship of the "operative clause" identifying "the right to keep and bear arms" to the "prefatory clause" about the importance of a "well-regulated militia." Only then does he consider the extensive evidence of original meaning that has been uncovered by scholars over the past 20 years - evidence that was presented to the Court in numerous "friends of the court" briefs.
Justice Scalia's opinion is the finest example of what is now called "original public meaning" jurisprudence ever adopted by the Supreme Court. This approach stands in sharp contrast to Justice John Paul Stevens's dissenting opinion that largely focused on "original intent" - the method that many historians employ to explain away the text of the Second Amendment by placing its words in what they call a "larger context." Although original-intent jurisprudence was discredited years ago among constitutional law professors, that has not stopped nonoriginalists from using "original intent" - or the original principles "underlying" the text - to negate its original public meaning.
Of course, the originalism of both Justices Scalia's and Stevens's opinions are in stark contrast with Justice Breyer's dissenting opinion, in which he advocates balancing an enumerated constitutional right against what some consider a pressing need to prohibit its exercise. Guess which wins out in the balancing? As Justice Scalia notes, this is not how we normally protect individual rights, and was certainly not how Justice Breyer protected the individual right of habeas corpus in the military tribunals case decided just two weeks ago.
Right on all counts and those who disparage Justice Scalia ought to do themselves the favor of reading his opinion with a clear and unbiased eye in order to fully appreciate just how much scholarship and learning he brought to bear in crafting the Heller opinion.