December 21, 2009

Extending the Right to Bear Arms to the States

Cato's Ilya Shapiro outlines five possible ways a Justice could decide McDonald:
“Extreme Anti-Gun” — Affirm the lower court in its entirety, deciding that it correctly interpreted Supreme Court precedent, that reconsideration of this precedent is unwarranted, and therefore that neither the Second Amendment nor the right to bear arms it protects extends to people in the states (as opposed to in federal territories, like the District of Columbia). I can’t imagine that any justice will vote for this way; even those who dissented in Heller generally support the selective incorporation of rights against the states.

“Conventional Liberal” – Affirm the lower court in part but clarify that while the Second Amendment is indeed “incorporated” as against the states via the Due Process Clause, Chicago’s gun ban is still okay — possibly under a test weighing the individual right against the city’s interest in reducing gun violence. There may be one to four votes for this position: Justice Breyer likes balancing tests; Justice Stevens may feel that his hometown’s regulations are justified; and Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor may feel the same way about New York.

“Conventional Conservative” — Reverse the lower court, “incorporate” the Second Amendment via the Due Process Clause — adopting an analysis akin to that of Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain in the Nordyke case — and strike down Chicago’s gun ban. The NRA’s brief primarily advocates this position, as do many conservatives fearful of the Privileges or Immunities Clause. There may be one to eight votes for this position: The “minimalist” Chief Justice Roberts may be hesitant to overturn longstanding precedent; Justice Scalia may decide that the devil he knows (substantive due process) is better than the one he doesn’t (privileges or immunities); Justice Kennedy may feel vested in his own expansive “fundamental rights” jurisprudence under the Due Process Clause (see my review of a book analyzing that jurisprudence); Justice Alito may share one or more of the above sentiments; and one or more of the aforementioned liberals may decide to “bite the bullet” and go along with this position.

“Mend Slaughter-House, Don’t End It” — Reverse the lower court, overturn three old precedents — Cruikshank (1876), Presser (1886), and Miller (1894), which were decided at a time when none of the rights in the Bill of Rights was considered to apply to the states – “incorporate” the Second Amendment via the Privileges or Immunities Clause without touching Slaughter-House, and strike down Chicago’s gun ban. This is the ACRU position, and while I don’t think it’s textually or historically supportable – a scholarly consensus across ideological lines holds that Slaughter-House was both wrongly decided and forecloses any significant application of the Privileges or Immunities Clause — it could emerge as a political “compromise.” (If Justice O’Connor were still on the Court, I could maybe see her advancing this position.)

“Originalist/Libertarian” — Reverse the lower court, overturn Slaughter-House and the three aforementioned cases, extend the right to keep and bear arms to the states (which is technically distinct from “incorporating” the Second Amendment), and strike down Chicago’s gun ban. This is Cato’s position – as well as that of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center on behalf of eight leading constitutional law professors from across the political spectrum – and there will be one and may be up to all nine of the justices here: Justice Thomas has long said that he’d like to revisit Slaughter-House in the appropriate case, and he surely led the push to grant a cert petition whose question presented called for briefing about the Privileges or Immunities Clause; any of the others who seriously grapple with the arguments in Alan Gura’s brilliant petitioners’ brief (and those of his amici, us included) will also have to go this way despite their various political qualms.

The Committee for Justice signed on to the ACRU brief discussed above which can be read here. A continually updated list of the briefs filed can be found here.

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