SCOTUS incorporates the Second Amendment

The Supreme Court ruled today in a 5 to 4 decision that the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, applies to the states and remanded McDonald v. Chicago back to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals instead of declaring it to be unconstitutional:

In another dramatic victory for firearm owners, the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional Chicago, Illinois’ 28-year-old strict ban on handgun ownership, a potentially far-reaching case over the ability of state and local governments to enforce limits on weapons.

A 5-4 conservative majority of justices on Monday reiterated its two-year-old conclusion the Constitution gives individuals equal or greater power than states on the issue of possession of certain firearms for self-protection.

“It cannot be doubted that the right to bear arms was regarded as a substantive guarantee, not a prohibition that could be ignored so long as states legislated in an evenhanded manner,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito.

The court grounded that right in the due process section of the 14th Amendment. The justices, however, said local jurisdictions still retain the flexibility to preserve some “reasonable” gun-control measures currently in place nationwide.

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer predicated far-reaching implications. “Incorporating the right,” he wrote, “may change the law in many of the 50 states. Read in the majority’s favor, the historical evidence” for the decision “is at most ambiguous.”

You can read the opinion here.

I know beggars can’t be choosers, but I am disappointed that the Court chose selective incorporation through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment instead of Privileges or Immunities Clause. The opinion states:

“There is no need to reconsider the Court’s interpretation of the Privileges or Immunities Clause in the Slaughter-House Cases because, for many decades, the Court has analyzed the question whether particular rights are protected against state infringement under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.”

So, rather than taking a difficult route, the Court, which includes pseudo-originalists like Samuel Alito, John Roberts and Antonin Scalia (especially Scalia), decided to punt the issue to another court because it would open, what they view as, a can of worms.

Clarence Thomas on the other hand was willing for the Court to jump into the Privileges or Immunities Clause and slammed the path the Court was taking on incorporation:

This Court’s substantive due process framework fails to account for both the text of the Fourteenth Amendment and the history that led to its adoption, filling that gap with a jurisprudence devoid of a guiding principle. I believe the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment offers a superior alternative, and that a return to that meaning would allow this Court to enforce the rights the Fourteenth Amendment is designed to protect with greater clarity and predictability than the substantive due process framework has so far managed.

I acknowledge the volume of precedents that have been built upon the substantive due process framework, and I further acknowledge the importance of stare decisis to the stability of our Nation’s legal system. But stare decisis is only an “adjunct” of our duty as judges to decide by our best lights what the Constitution means. Moreover, as judges, we interpret the Constitution one case or controversy at a time. The question presented in this case is not whether our entire Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence must be preserved or revised, but only whether, and to what extent, a particular clause in the Constitution protects the particular right at issue here. With the inquiry appropriately narrowed, I believe this case presents an opportunity to reexamine, and begin the process of restoring, the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment agreed upon by those who ratified it.

This is a victory for the Second Amendment and gun owners, but the decision is lacking because the Court took the easy way out.


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