Tag: second amendment

Democrats, Kagan, and the Second Amendment

Today Politico Arena asks:

What are the political implications for Democrats and for the Kagan hearings of today’s Supreme Court gun decision?

My response:

The Supreme Court’s decision today that the Second Amendment applies against the states cannot be helpful to Democrats in the upcoming elections or to Elena Kagan in her confirmation hearings. Most Court-watchers expected the decision to come out as it did, yet the dissent by the Court’s four liberals speaks volumes. How could other rights in the Bill of Rights be good against the states, but not this right? Given the quality of their argument, the conclusion that the Court’s liberals are picking and choosing their rights on political grounds is inescapable.

And that issue will arise in the Kagan hearings, given some of her past statements about the Second Amendment. Will it block her confirmation? Probably not, given the numbers. But the discussion should illuminate the issue for the voters, and that’s good.

The Court Restores a Fundamental Right

Today is a big victory for gun rights and a bigger one for liberty.  The Supreme Court has correctly decided that state actions violating the right to keep and bear arms are no more valid than those taken by the federal government.

It could not have been otherwise: the Fourteenth Amendment, coming on the heels of the Civil War, says clearly that never again would the Constitution tolerate state oppressions, and that all individuals possess certain fundamental rights.  It is equally clear that the right to keep and bear arms is one of those deeply rooted fundamental rights, not least because the Framers thought so highly of it as to enumerate it in the Second Amendment.

Still, Justice Alito’s plurality opinion leaves a lot to be desired, in that his ultimately correct conclusion rests on a dog’s breakfast of Substantive Due Process “incorporation” doctrine that arose only because the Privileges or Immunities Clause was strangled in its crib by an 1870s Supreme Court that refused to reconcile itself to the changes in constitutional structure wrought by the Fourteenth Amendment.  Justice Thomas’s response to this tortured attempt to fit a square fundamental right into a round procedural guarantee is the right one: “I cannot accept a theory of constitutional interpretation that rests on such tenuous footing.”

Only Justice Thomas grapples with the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, surveying the rich history of the terms “privileges” and “immunities” to find that the right to defend oneself is part and parcel of the inalienable rights we all possess—and indeed it is “essential to the preservation of liberty.”  The Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment—the most important “Framers” in this context—plainly deemed this right “necessary to include in the minimum baseline of federal rights that the Privileges or Immunities Clause established in the wake of the War over slavery.”  All arguments to the contrary lack legal, historical and even philosophical basis.

And so it is a very good thing, again for liberty, that the Court needs Thomas’s fifth vote to rule as it does: while the plurality declines to reconsider the old and discredited Privileges or Immunities precedent, Thomas’s clarion call for a libertarian originalism provides a step on which to build in future.

Finally, as we celebrate the belated recognition of a precious right—the one that allows us to protect all the others—we must be shocked and saddened to see four justices (including Sonia Sotomayor, who at her confirmation hearings suggested she would do otherwise) standing for the proposition that states can violate this right at will, checked by nothing more than the political process.  This is a nation of laws, not men—a republic, not a pure democracy—and thus it is disconcerting to see, as we do time and time again with this Court, that the only thing separating us from rule by a crude majoritarian impulse is one vote.  Thank God that, in this case, that vote was Justice Thomas’s.

Elena Kagan, Super Tuesday, Tea Parties, Guns

Just as Tuesday’s primary elections were good news for libertarians, they were bad news for Elena Kagan.  Now that Arlen Specter (D-R-D-PA) will never again face an electorate, we will be able to see his true colors, whatever they are – this should be interesting! – on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), assuming she wins her June 8 primary run-off (having to tack left to do so), will be a possible vote against Kagan so she can show skeptical Arkansans that she’s not an Obama-Reid-Pelosi rubber stamp.  And Rand Paul’s trouncing of establishment candidate Trey Grayson in the Republican primary should strike fear into the hearts of all senators running for re-election this fall (or even 2012) such that they refuse to accept pablum from a judicial nominee’s testimony.

The above races, combined even more notably with Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts in January, reinforce that voters are upset with Washington and they ain’t gonna take it any more.  Put simply, this fall’s election is shaping up to be a repeat of 1994 – except now we have protesters, the Tea Party movement, actively opposing every type of government expansion, bloat, and “stimulus” emanating from the federal government.  Elena Kagan will still get confirmed but she will face tough questions about the limits on government power; a 59-seat majority is nothing to sneeze at, but her confirmation margin is eroding every day.

Turning to one aspect of Kagan’s record that will get some attention in coming weeks, Ken Klukowski of the American Civil Rights Union argues that the nominee “confirms that President Obama’s gun-control agenda is to create a Supreme Court that will ‘reinterpret’ the Second Amendment until that amendment means nothing at all.”  Now, even though Ken and I have tangled before, I have no doubt that Obama is not the best president ever for the defense of the natural right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.  Still, Ken’s claim here that Kagan’s decision not to file a brief on behalf of the United States in McDonald v. City of Chicago indicates that she is anti-gun rights is specious.

Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center – a progressive group that nevertheless has the intellectual integrity to support the application of the right to keep and bear arms via the Privileges or Immunities Clause – has a detailed refutation to these allegations:

As one of two lawyers who met with General Kagan on behalf of the petitioner, Otis McDonald, to request that she file a brief in support of McDonald, I can say first hand that this assertion is nonsense.  It is also worth pointing out, as I do below, that Klukowski’s post has important factual distortions in it.

As has been reported in the press, I joined McDonald’s lead counsel, Alan Gura, in a meeting with General Kagan and her staff to ask the Solicitor General to file a brief in support of McDonald and incorporation, against the City of Chicago.

From the outset, it was clear to me that McDonald was a difficult case for the Obama Administration, and that we therefore faced a decidedly uphill battle in seeking support from the United States.

On the incorporation question, there is also the fact that the Solicitor General’s Office has a tradition of not weighing in on incorporation cases at all, regardless of where it may stand on the merits of the case.  As former Solicitor General Erwin Griswold explained in a 1970 Supreme Court brief, the outcome of incorporation cases is rarely of direct interest to the federal government, while “fundamental considerations of federalism militate against executive intrusion into the area of State criminal law.”  Noting that incorporation cases often arise from questions surrounding state criminal procedure, Griswold indicated that the Solicitor General’s Office was particularly wary of getting involved in a potentially vast number of cases in which criminal defendants sought to expand the procedural protections of the federal Due Process Clause.

General Kagan gave us an entirely fair opportunity to state our case, and the decision by her office to refrain from filing a friend-of-the-court brief in this case tells us nothing meaningful about Kagan’s views on the Second Amendment.

In short, as Josh Blackman says, Kagan had plenty of reasons not to file a brief in McDonald and her decision not to says absolutely nothing about her views on the right to keep and bear arms. Again, I have no doubt that Elena Kagan, being a standard modern liberal, is no friend of the Second Amendment.  But the evidence Ken Klukowski purports to marshal is no evidence at all.

Open Carry Victory

As I previously noted, one of the areas where enforcement of the right to keep and bear arms will impact states and localities is in the carrying of handguns, either open or concealed. Until then, handgun carry proponents will be forced to comply with state laws that mandate open carry where concealed handgun permits are not issued or are only issued to those who happen to have fame, money, or political connections.

Wisconsin is one of two states with no provision for concealed carry (Illinois is the other). Frank Hannon-Rock, a member of Wisconsin Carry, a pro-gun rights organization, was arrested for open carrying on his front porch. He filed suit and was recently awarded $10,000 by a federal district court.

This parallels (but does not equal) the experience of Danladi Moore, an open carry advocate in Virginia who has been harassed repeatedly by Norfolk police. Moore’s case is worse; he is black, and police behavior took a predictable turn:

Danladi Moore – whom the city paid $10,000 in July to avoid litigation after being stopped by police for suspected weapons violations – was charged with trespassing at the downtown entertainment complex Tuesday night…

Moore said a friend who was with him at Waterside also was carrying a gun and also had challenged police when asked to leave. He said his friend, who is white, was not charged.

Given the racist origins of gun control and the positive role that firearms played in the civil rights movement, you would think that this sort of thing would be frowned upon.

Gun Control After McDonald

I recently appeared on the Patt Morrison Show in southern California opposite Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in a segment that begs the question of what gun control laws will look like if the Supreme Court incorporates the Second Amendment with the McDonald v. Chicago case. The audio of the program is here, but the issue merits a more detailed discussion than I could get into on the radio.

The litigation over the boundaries of the Second Amendment in the District of Columbia previews the kinds of gun laws that will face court scrutiny.

First, certain restrictions on the purchase of firearms will likely be overturned. California maintains a “safe gun roster” of handguns that manufacturers have successfully submitted for safety testing. Following the Heller decision, the District adopted California’s roster. The roster is very specific, and handgun models are certified “safe” right down to the color. The District rejected applications to register two-tone guns, discontinued models, and guns not on the California roster. Three plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that this policy violated constitutional protections against irrational administrative regulations. The District relented, expanding its roster to include the “safe handguns” listings for Maryland and Massachusetts.

California courts are likely to reach similar conclusions. The Calguns Foundation has a plaintiff who wants to register a Glock handgun. The state has certified the right-handed but not the ambidextrous version, and the Calguns plaintiff was born without a right arm below the elbow. This compelling case, along with others parallel to the DC plaintiffs, will force California to open up its roster.

Second, jurisdictions will be forced to allow some form of handgun carry, either open or concealed. Outright bans on concealed carry cited in cases from the mid-1800’s come from a time when it was assumed that only brigands carried handguns concealed, and it was an unquestioned right of the people to carry arms openly wherever they went. States and localities will not be able to delete the right to bear arms from the right to keep and bear arms.

My colleague Tom Palmer is currently litigating this issue in the District of Columbia (complaint here), and states will have to confront the plain text of the Second Amendment and clear historical recognition of a right to be armed outside the home.

California allows open carry as long as the handgun is unloaded, but Los Angeles and other jurisdictions in the state refuse to issue concealed handgun permits. California will probably opt for concealed carry when push comes to shove. Public views have shifted to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, and concealed carry is the rule in most states. A California police officer recently put a comment up on Facebook that proposes intimidating open carriers with violence. “Haha, we had one guy last week try to do it! He got proned out and reminded where he was at and that turds will jack him for his gun in a heartbeat!” Turds indeed.

This brings us back to the Starbucks controversy that prompted the radio segment. Gun control proponents asked Starbucks to ban firearms from their coffee shops, and gun rights activists asked that they continue their current policy of following the law of the jurisdiction where each franchise is located.

The call-ins to the radio show expressed a willingness to boycott Starbucks if it keeps its “follow the law” policy, but that’s a rationale to boycott gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants across the nation. If self-defense scares you that much, the best advice is to stay home. Or venture out and be a good victim.

Callers also expressed concerns about off-duty cops brandishing guns while intoxicated, and this is something we should take seriously. As I’ve said before, no magical powers accrue to a sworn officer. That’s a great case for barring everyone from carrying and drinking in public, law enforcement officers included. Federal law does this – the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act allows current and retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed nationwide but requires that they not be under the influence while doing so. The same can’t be said for some state laws that make law enforcement officers a higher class of citizens than everyone else. Virginia allows retired law enforcement officers from any jurisdiction to imbibe while armed, but citizens with concealed handgun permits must transition from concealed carry to open carry when entering an establishment that serves alcohol for on-premises consumption. Better to treat permit holders and officers alike, and allow carry in restaurants but bar alcohol consumption while armed.

It’s unclear what the patchwork of gun laws across the nation will look like in ten years, but Eugene Volokh gives a framework for analysis in this article. Cato held an event the day before oral argument of the McDonald case, and our brief is available here. Ilya Shapiro and Josh Blackman discussed the application of the Privileges or Immunities Clause in this excellent article, and provided some post-argument commentary.

Gun Rights Secure, Liberty Less So

This morning the Court heard argument in McDonald v. Chicago, the case asking whether the right to keep and bear arms extends to protecting against actions by state and local governments.  Just as importantly, it asked whether the best way to extend that right would be through the Due Process Clause of Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (because the Second Amendment doesn’t apply directly to the states).

From the initial questioning through the end, it was quite clear that those living in Chicago – and, by extension, New York, San Francisco, and other places with extreme gun restrictions – will soon be able to rest easy, knowing that they will be able to have guns with which to protect themselves.  Unfortunately, the Court did not seem inclined to adopt the arguments propounded by petitioners’ counsel Alan Gura (and supported by Cato) that the Privileges or Immunities Clause was the way to go.   Chief Justice Roberts expressed reluctance at having to overturn the 1873 Slaughterhouse Cases and other justices joined in concerns over how activist judges would use the Clause if the Court revived it – even if that were the path that hewed more closely to the constitution’s true meaning.

This turn of events is unfortunate because reviving the Privileges or Immunities Clause, far from giving judges free reign to impose their policy views, would actually tie them closer to the text, structure, and history of the Constitution.  As it stands now – and as it seems will be the case after McDonald is decided – many of our most cherished rights are protected only to the extent that judges are willing to label them as sufficiently “fundamental” to warrant such protection.  That is an unprincipled jurisprudence and one that hurts the rule of law.

In short, it is a shame that the Supreme Court seems to be wasting a perfect opportunity to bring constitutional law closer to the Constitution.  It is an even greater shame that it is wasting this chance to use guns to protect liberty.

Civil Liberties Advocates, Not ‘Gun Advocates’

In this NPR story Nina Totenberg gives both sides their say.  But twice she refers to the people advocating Second Amendment rights as “gun advocates” (and once as “gun rights advocates”). That’s not the language NPR uses in other such cases. In 415 NPR stories on abortion, I found only one reference to “abortion advocates,” in 2005. There are far more references, hundreds more, to “abortion rights,” “reproductive rights,” and “women’s rights.” And certainly abortion-rights advocates would insist that they are not “abortion advocates,” they are advocates for the right of women to choose whether or not to have an abortion. NPR grants them the respect of characterizing them the way they prefer.

Similarly, NPR has never used the phrase “pornography advocates,” though it has run a number of stories on the First Amendment and how it applies to pornography. The lawyers who fight restrictions on pornography are First Amendment advocates, not pornography advocates.

And the lawyers who seek to guarantee our rights under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should be called Second Amendment advocates, or advocates of the right to self-defense, or civil liberties advocates. Or even “gun rights advocates,” as they do advocate the right of individuals to choose whether or not to own a gun. But not “gun advocates.”