Monthly Archives: December 2016

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District of Columbia v. Heller: Restrictions on Right to Bear Arms (06/26/2008)

District of Columbia v. Heller

Do the provisions of the District of Columbia Code that restrict the licensing of handguns and require licensed firearms kept in the home to be kept nonfunctional violate the Second Amendment?

Argued: 03/18/2008

Decision Date: 06/26/2008

Decision Record: 5-4; yes

Justices Majority: John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito

Justices Dissenting: John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruther Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer

Effect of the Decision

This case holds that there cannot be laws placed that restrict the liscensing of handguns or that require for guns to be kept disfunctional because it violates the Second Amendment.

In Favor

In the representation of the side of the District of Columbia, attorney Walter E. Delinger, III said, “The Second Amendment was a direct response to concern over Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gave the new national Congress the surprising, perhaps even the shocking, power to organize, arm, and presumably disarm the State militias.

What is at issue this morning is the scope and nature of the individual right protected by the resulting amendment and the first text to consider is the phrase protecting a right to keep and bear arms.

In the debates over the Second Amendment, every person who used the phrase “bear arms” used it to refer to the use of arms in connection with militia service and when Madison introduced the amendment in the first Congress, he exactly equated the phrase “bearing arms” with, quote, “rendering military service”.

We know this from the inclusion in his draft of a clause exempting those with religious scruples.

His clause says

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country, but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person. “

And even if the language of keeping and bearing arms were ambiguous, the amendment’s first clause confirms that the right is militia-related.”

Against

Then in opposition, representing Heller, attorney Paul D. Clement claimed, “The Second Amendment to the Constitution, as its text indicates, guarantees an individual right that does not depend on eligibility for or service in the militia.

We would take the position that the kind of plastic guns or guns that are specifically designed to evade metal detectors that are prohibited by Federal law are not “arms” within the meaning of the Second Amendment and are not protected at all.

And that would be the way we would say that you should analyze that provision of Federal law, as those are not even arms within the provisions of the Second Amendment.

I think to make the same argument about machine guns would be a much more difficult argument, to say the least, given that they are the standard-issue weapon for today’s armed forces and the State-organized militia.”

Justices:

The majority opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. He wrote, “We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country, and we take seriously the concerns raised by the many amici who believe that prohibition of handgun ownership is a solution. The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns. But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home. Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

Then in dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said, “I do not know whether today’s decision will increase the labor of federal judges to the “breaking point” envisioned by Justice Cardozo, but it will surely give rise to a far more active judicial role in making vitally important national policy decisions than was envisioned at any time in the 18th, 19th, or 20th centuries. The Court properly disclaims any interest in evaluating the wisdom of the specific policy choice challenged in this case, but it fails to pay heed to a far more important policy choice—the choice made by the Framers themselves. The Court would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons, and to authorize this Court to use the common-law process of case-by-case judicial lawmaking to define the contours of acceptable gun control policy. Absent compelling evidence that is nowhere to be found in the Court’s opinion, I could not possibly conclude that the Framers made such a choice.”

Also in dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, “The majority ignores a more important question: Given the purposes for which the Framers enacted the Second Amendment, how should it be applied to modern-day circumstances that they could not have anticipated? Assume, for argument’s sake, that the Framers did intend the Amendment to offer a degree of self-defense protection. Does that mean that the Framers also intended to guarantee a right to possess a loaded gun near swimming pools, parks, and playgrounds? That they would not have cared about the children who might pick up a loaded gun on their parents’ bedside table? That they (who certainly showed concern for the risk of fire) would have lacked concern for the risk of accidental deaths or suicides that readily accessible loaded handguns in urban areas might bring? Unless we believe that they intended future generations to ignore such matters, answering questions such as the questions in this case requires judgment—judicial judgment exercised within a framework for constitutional analysis that guides that judgment and which makes its exercise transparent. One cannot answer those questions by combining inconclusive historical research with judicial ipse dixit. The argument about method, however, is by far the less important argument surrounding today’s decision. Far more important are the unfortunate consequences that today’s decision is likely to spawn. Not least of these, as I have said, is the fact that the decision threatens to throw into doubt the constitutionality of gun laws throughout the United States. I can find no sound legal basis for launching the courts on so formidable and potentially dangerous a mission. In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas. VI For these reasons, I conclude that the District’s measure is a proportionate, not a disproportionate, response to the compelling concerns that led the District to adopt it. And, for these reasons as well as the independently sufficient reasons set forth by JUSTICE STEVENS, I would find the District’s measure consistent with the Second Amendment’s demands.”

My Opinion:

In this case, I agree with the majority’s decision. The Second Amendment clearly states that all citizens can enjoy the right to bear arms. Enforcing a law that requires for all handguns to be left at home and kept disfunctional goes against that, and is therefore a violation. If a person has to keep their guns disfunctional, then they can’t even enjoy their constitutional right to the Second Amendment. Any law that interferes with the constitutional right to bear arms is a violation of the citizens’ rights.

*Justice Leaning L=Left, LC=Left of Center, C=Center, RC=Right of Center, R=Right

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Dred Scott v. Sandford: Freedom From Living to Free State (03/06/1857)

Dred Scott v. Sandford

Was Dred Scott a free slave?

Argued: 02/10/1856; 02/11/1856; 02/12/1856; 02/13/1856; 12/14/1856; 12/15/1856; 12/16/1856; 12/17/1856

Decision Date: 03/06/1857

Decision Record: 7-2; no

Justices Majority: Roger Taney, James Wayne, John Catron, Peter Daniel, Samuel Nelson, Robert Grier, John Campbell

Justices Dissenting: John McLean, Benjamin Curtis

Effect of the Decision

This case upheld that a slave was not legally free when they escaped to a free state that prohibited slavery.

In Favor

Dred Scott was represented by attorneys Montgomery Blair and George Ticknor Curtis.

Against

Then in opposition, Sandford was represented by attorney Henry S. Geyer.

Justices:

The majority opinion slip was written by Justice Roger Taney. He wrote, “Our notice of this part of the case will be very brief, for the principle on which it depends was decided in this court, upon much consideration, in the case of Strader et al. v. Graham, reported in 10th Howard 82. In that case, the slaves had been taken from Kentucky to Ohio, with the consent of the owner, and afterwards brought back to Kentucky. And this court held that their status or condition as free or slave depended upon the laws of Kentucky when they were brought back into that State, and not of Ohio, and that this court had no jurisdiction to revise the judgment of a State court upon its own laws. This was the point directly before the court, and the decision that this court had not jurisdiction turned upon it, as will be seen by the report of the case.

So in this case. As Scott was a slave when taken into the State of Illinois by his owner, and was there held as such, and brought back in that character, his status as free or slave depended on the laws of Missouri, and not of Illinois.

It has, however, been urged in the argument that, by the laws of Missouri, he was free on his return, and that this case therefore cannot be governed by the case of Strader et al. v. Graham, where it appeared, by the laws of Kentucky, that the plaintiffs continued to be slaves on their return from Ohio. But whatever doubts or opinions may at one time have been entertained upon this subject, we are satisfied, upon a careful examination of all the cases decided in the State courts of Missouri referred to, that it is now firmly settled by the decisions of the highest court in the State that Scott and his family upon their return were not free, but were, by the laws of Missouri, the property of the defendant, and that the Circuit Court of the United States had no jurisdiction when, by the laws of the State, the plaintiff was a slave and not a citizen.

Moreover, the plaintiff, it appears, brought a similar action against the defendant in the State court of Missouri, claiming the freedom of himself and his family upon the same grounds and the same evidence upon which he relies in the case before the court. The case was carried before the Supreme Court of the State, was fully argued there, and that court decided that neither the plaintiff nor his family were entitled to freedom, and were still the slaves of the defendant, and reversed the judgment of the inferior State court, which had given a different decision. If the plaintiff supposed that this judgment of the Supreme Court of the State was erroneous, and that this court had jurisdiction to revise and reverse it, the only mode by which he could legally bring it before this court was by writ of error directed to the Supreme Court of the State, requiring it to transmit the record to this court. If this had been done, it is too plain for argument that the writ must have been dismissed for want of jurisdiction in this court. The case of Strader and others v. Graham is directly in point, and, indeed, independent of any decision, the language of the 25th section of the act of 1789 is too clear and precise to admit of controversy.

But the plaintiff did not pursue the mode prescribed by law for bringing the judgment of a State court before this court for revision, but suffered the case to be remanded to the inferior State court, where it is still continued, and is, by agreement of parties, to await the judgment of this court on the point. All of this appears on the record before us, and by the printed report of the case.

And while the case is yet open and pending in the inferior State court, the plaintiff goes into the Circuit Court of the United States, upon the same case and the same evidence and against the same party, and proceeds to judgment, and then brings here the same case from the Circuit Court, which the law would not have permitted him to bring directly from the State court. And if this court takes jurisdiction in this form, the result, so far as the rights of the respective parties are concerned, is in every respect substantially the same as if it had, in open violation of law, entertained jurisdiction over the judgment of the State court upon a writ of error, and revised and reversed its judgment upon the ground that its opinion upon the question of law was erroneous. It would ill become this court to sanction such an attempt to evade the law, or to exercise an appellate power in this circuitous way which it is forbidden to exercise in the direct and regular and invariable forms of judicial proceedings.

Upon the whole, therefore, it is the judgment of this court that it appears by the record before us that the plaintiff in error is not a citizen of Missouri in the sense in which that word is used in the Constitution, and that the Circuit Court of the United States, for that reason, had no jurisdiction in the case, and could give no judgment in it. Its judgment for the defendant must, consequently, be reversed, and a mandate issued directing the suit to be dismissed for want of jurisdiction.”

Then in dissent, Justice John McLean wrote, “We entertain the highest respect for that learned court (the Supreme Court of Michigan), and, in any question affecting the construction of their own laws where we entertain any doubt, would be glad to be relieved from doubt and responsibility by reposing on their decision. There are, it is true, many dicta to be found in our decisions averring that the courts of the United States are bound to follow the decisions of the State courts on the construction of their own laws. But although this may be correct, yet a rather strong expression of a general rule, it cannot be received as the annunciation of a maxim of universal application. Accordingly, our reports furnish many cases of exceptions to it. In all cases where there is a settled construction of the laws of the a State by its highest judicature established by admitted precedent, it is the practice of the courts of the United States to receive and adopt it without criticism or further inquiry. When the decisions of the State court are not consistent, we do not feel bound to follow the last if it is contrary to our own convictions, and much more is this the case where, after a long course of consistent decisions, some new light suddenly springs up, or an excited public opinion has elicited new doctrines subversive of former safe precedent.

These words, it appears to me, have a stronger application to the case before us than they had to the cause in which they were spoken as the opinion of this court, and I regret that they do not seem to be as fresh in the recollection of some of my brethren as in my own. For twenty-eight years, the decisions of the Supreme Court of Missouri were consistent on all the points made in this case. But this consistent course was suddenly terminated, whether by some new light suddenly springing up, or an excited public opinion, or both, it is not necessary to say. In the case of Scott v. Emerson, in 1852, they were overturned and repudiated.

This, then, is the very case in which seven of my brethren declared they would not follow the last decision. On this authority I may well repose. I can desire no other or better basis.

But there is another ground which I deem conclusive, and which I will restate.

The Supreme Court of Missouri refused to notice the act of Congress or the Constitution of Illinois under which Dred Scott, his wife, and children claimed that they are entitled to freedom.

This being rejected by the Missouri court, there was no case before it, or least it was a case with only one side. And this is the case which, in the opinion of this court, we are bound to follow. The Missouri court disregards the express provisions of an act of Congress and the Constitution of a sovereign State, both of which laws for twenty-eight years it had not only regarded, but carried into effect.

If a State court may do this, on a question involving the liberty of a human being, what protection do the laws afford? So far from this being a Missouri question, it is a question, as it would seem, within the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act, where a right to freedom being set up under the act of Congress, and the decision being against such right, it may be brought for revision before this court, from the Supreme Court of Missouri.”

Also in dissent, Justice Benjamin Curtis wrote, “The case before us will illustrate the construction contended for. Dr. Emerson was a citizen of Missouri; he had an equal right to go to the Territory with every citizen of other States. This is undeniable, as I suppose. Scott was Dr. Emerson’s lawful property in Missouri; he carried his Missouri title with him, and the precise question here is whether Congress had the power to annul that title. It is idle to say that, if Congress could not defeat the title directly, that it might be done indirectly, by drawing a narrow circle around the slave population of Upper Louisiana and declaring that, if the slave went beyond it, he should be free. Such assumption is mere evasion, and entitled to no consideration. And it is equally idle to contend that, because Congress has express power to regulate commerce among the Indian tribes and to prohibit intercourse with the Indians, that therefore Dr. Emerson’s title might be defeated within the country ceded by the Indians to the United States as early as 1805, and which embraces Fort Snelling. Am.State Papers, vol. 1, p. 734. We must meet the question whether Congress had the power to declare that a citizen of a State, carrying with him his equal rights secured to him through his State, could be stripped of his goods and slaves and be deprived of any participation in the common property? If this be the true meaning of the Constitution, equality of rights to enjoy a common country (equal to a thousand miles square) may be cut off by a geographical line, and a great portion of our citizens excluded from it.

Ingenious indirect evasions of the Constitution have been attempted and defeated heretofore. In the Passenger Cases, 7 How.R., the attempt was made to impose a tax on the masters, crews, and passengers of vessels, the Constitution having prohibited a tax on the vessel itself, but this Court held the attempt to be a mere evasion, and pronounced the tax illegal.

I admit that Virginia could, and lawfully did, prohibit slavery northwest of the Ohio by her charter of cession, and that the territory was taken by the United States with this condition imposed. I also admit that France could, by the treaty of 1803, have prohibited slavery in any part of the ceded territory, and imposed it on the United States as a fundamental condition of the cession, in the meantime, till new States were admitted in the Union.

I concur with Judge Baldwin that Federal power is exercised over all the territory within the United States, pursuant to the Constitution and the conditions of the cession, whether it was a part of the original territory of a State of the Union or of a foreign State, ceded by deed or treaty, the right of the United States in or over it depends on the contract of cession, which operates to incorporate as well the Territory as its inhabitants into the Union. Baldwin’s Constitutional Views 84.

My opinion is that the third article of the treaty of 1803, ceding Louisiana to the United States, stands protected by the Constitution, and cannot be repealed by Congress.

And, secondly that the Act of 1820, known as the Missouri Compromise, violates the most leading feature of the Constitution — a feature on which the Union depends and which secures to the respective States and their citizens and entire EQUALITY of rights, privileges, and immunities.

On these grounds, I hold the compromise act to have been void, and consequently that the plaintiff, Scott, can claim no benefit under it.”

My Opinion:

In this case, I disagree with the majority opinion. The African Americans should have been treated no differently than the whites. They had the right to be citizens, but they weren’t granted that right. Being a resident in a free state, means that you, yourself are free. The law in the area declares you legally free. If slavery is not permitted in that state, then no slaves exist there either.

*Justice Leaning L=Left, LC=Left of Center, C=Center, RC=Right of Center, R=Right