No Guns, No Abortion Rights?

Right wing justices compare the Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller [pdf], which they think was wrongly decided, to Roe v. Wade.  Somehow, the notion that gun control ought to be a matter for individual states is equivalent, in their view, to advisability of local control of abortion rights:

Four months after the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess guns, its decision is under assault — from the right.

Two prominent federal appeals court judges say that Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in the case, District of Columbia v. Heller, is illegitimate, activist, poorly reasoned and fueled by politics rather than principle. The 5-to-4 decision in Heller struck down parts of a District of Columbia gun control law.

The judges used what in conservative legal circles are the ultimate fighting words: They said the gun ruling was a right-wing version of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that identified a constitutional right to abortion. Justice Scalia has said that Roe had no basis in the Constitution and amounted to a judicial imposition of a value judgment that should have been left to state legislatures.

Comparisons of the two decisions, then, seemed calculated to sting.

“The Roe and Heller courts are guilty of the same sins,” one of the two appeals court judges, J. Harvie Wilkinson III, wrote in an article to be published in the spring in The Virginia Law Review.

Similarly, Judge Richard A. Posner, in an article in The New Republic in August, wrote that Heller’s failure to allow the political process to work out varying approaches to gun control that were suited to local conditions “was the mistake that the Supreme Court made when it nationalized abortion rights in Roe v. Wade.”

Sharp criticism of a recent Supreme Court decision by federal appeals court judges is quite unusual, though these two judges — both Reagan appointees — are more outspoken than most.

Judge Wilkinson, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., was recently considered for a spot on the Supreme Court. Judge Posner, of the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, is perhaps the most influential judge not on the Supreme Court.

Not all conservatives agree with the critics, of course. Robert A. Levy, a libertarian lawyer who was a principal architect of the victorious strategy in the Heller case, rejected the comparison to Roe.

The two sides in the Heller case claimed to rely on the original meaning of the Second Amendment, based on analysis of its text in light of historical materials. The amendment says, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The more liberal justices said the amendment protected only a collective right tied to state militias, thus allowing most gun control laws. The more conservative justices found an individual right and struck down parts of a District of Columbia gun control law.

In Judge Wilkinson’s view, the upshot of the court’s extensive historical analysis was that “both sides fought into overtime to a draw.”

Others said the quality of the combat was low. “Neither of the two main opinions in Heller would pass muster as serious historical writing,” Jack Rakove, a historian at Stanford, wrote on the blog Balkinization soon after the decision was issued.

The strong reaction from the right after Heller was preceded, with a sort of symmetry, by liberal support for an individual-rights reading of the Second Amendment. For much of the 20th century, the conventional view of the amendment had been that it only protects a collective right. (Warren E. Burger, after retiring as chief justice in 1986, called the individual rights view “one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen.”)

But some prominent liberal law professors, including Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard, Akhil Reed Amar of Yale and Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas, have concluded, sometimes reluctantly, that the amendment in fact protects an individual right. Professor Levinson’s seminal 1989 article in The Yale Law Journal captured the tone of the enterprise. It was called “The Embarrassing Second Amendment.”

In an interview, Professor Levinson said, “The result in Heller is eminently respectable.” But he added that he understood why some conservatives were upset. “People say the Roe court was too interventionist,” he said. “So is the Heller court from that perspective.”

Judge Wilkinson’s basic critique is that the majority, like that in Roe, used an ambiguous text to impose its policy preference on the nation, at great cost to the democratic process and to local values. He assumed, as most experts do, that the decision would apply to the states.

“In both Roe and Heller,” Judge Wilkinson wrote, “the court claimed to find in the Constitution the authority to overrule the wishes of the people’s representatives. In both cases, the constitutional text did not clearly mandate the result, and the court had discretion to decide the case either way.”

Judge Posner built on themes in his recent book “How Judges Think,” which argued that constitutional adjudication by the Supreme Court is largely and necessarily political. The Heller decision, he wrote in The New Republic, “is evidence that the Supreme Court, in deciding constitutional cases, exercises a freewheeling discretion strongly flavored with ideology.”

Indeed, Judge Wilkinson wrote, “Some observers may be tempted to view Heller as a revenge of sorts for Roe” or “a sort of judicial tit-for-tat.” As Judge Posner put it, “The idea behind the decision” in Heller “may simply be that turnabout is fair play.”

Mr. Levy, who helped win Heller, said some conservatives wanted almost all decisions to be made by the political branches rather than the courts.

“But these are constitutional rights,” Mr. Levy, now chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian research group, said of the rights protected by the Second Amendment. “They are not rights consigned to the legislature.”

The analogy to Roe, he went on, is misguided. There is no reference to abortion in the Constitution.

The Second Amendment, by contrast, indisputably protects a right to keep and bear arms, though there is sharp disagreement about the scope of the right. Mr. Levy said the natural reading of the amendment, one supported by historical materials, was that it protected an individual right.

Read the rest here

Well, the thing is, you can limit a Constitutional right such as the 2nd Amendment and it isn’t outside the bounds of reason to think that the Founders didn’t intend the right to bear arms to be individual.  There’s no need to hit on Roe v. Wade.  Unless you want to.

Look out women of America!  As always.  IMHO, Americans are far too prone to see their Constitution as the Bible and the Founding Fathers as gods.  Making me feel warm and fuzzy about the Canadian “living tree” analogy when it comes to constitutional interpretation.  From the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in  Reference re: Same-Sex Marriage:

… our Constitution is a living tree which, by way of progressive interpretation, accommodates and addresses the realities of modern life.  In the 1920s, for example, a controversy arose as to whether women as well as men were capable of being considered “qualified persons” eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada.  Legal precedent stretching back to Roman Law was cited for the proposition that women had always been considered “unqualified” for public office, and it was argued that this common understanding in 1867 was incorporated in s. 24 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and should continue to govern Canadians in succeeding ages.  Speaking for the Privy Council in Edwards v. Attorney-General for Canada, [1930] A.C. 124 (P.C.) (the “Persons” case),  Lord Sankey L.C. said at p. 136:

 Their Lordships do not conceive it to be the duty of this Board — it is certainly not their desire — to cut down the provisions of the [B.N.A.] Act by a narrow and technical construction, but rather to give it a large and liberal interpretation so that the Dominion to a great extent, but within certain fixed limits, may be mistress in her own house, as the Provinces to a great extent, but within certain fixed limits, are mistresses in theirs. [Emphasis added by the Court.]

A large and liberal, or progressive, interpretation ensures the continued relevance and, indeed, legitimacy of Canada’s constituting document.  By way of progressive interpretation our Constitution succeeds in its ambitious enterprise, that of structuring the exercise of power by the organs of the state in times vastly different from those in which it was crafted.  For instance, Parliament’s legislative competence in respect of telephones was recognized on the basis of its authority over interprovincial “undertakings” in s. 92(10)(a) even though the telephone had yet to be invented in 1867:  Toronto Corporation v. Bell Telephone Co. of Canada, [1905] A.C. 52 (P.C.).  Likewise, Parliament is not limited to the range of criminal offences recognized by the law of England in 1867 in the exercise of its criminal law power in s. 91(27):  Proprietary Articles Trade Association v. Attorney-General for Canada, [1931] A.C. 310 (P.C.), at p. 324. Lord Sankey L.C. noted in the Persons case, at p. 135, that early English decisions are not a “secure foundation on which to build the interpretation” of our Constitution.  We agree. 

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