Home > posts > New Gun Rights Case Could Expand Use of Originalism in Constitutional Interpretation
November 24th, 2009 7:39 pm
New Gun Rights Case Could Expand Use of Originalism in Constitutional Interpretation

The people who brought – and won – District of Columbia v. Heller (aka “the D.C. Gun Rights Case”) are back with a lawsuit challenging a nearly identical ban on handgun possession in Chicago, IL. The Supreme Court ruled in Heller that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to own and use a firearm (not a militia’s) in the District of Columbia (i.e. a federal jurisdiction). Now the question in McDonald v. City of Chicago is whether the Supreme Court will extend its ruling in Heller to cover McDonald’s right to own and use a firearm to invalidate a state law.

But wait; there’s more! The lawyers for McDonald are advancing a provocative theory that could expand the use of “Originalist” interpretation of the Constitution. Close followers of the Court will recall that Justice Scalia is the most well known proponent of interpreting the Constitution in light of its original and public understanding of its text at the time it was ratified (i.e. 1791). In fact, Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller was a triumph of sorts for Originalism as an authoritative method of interpretation. In their brief, McDonald’s lawyers argue for using Originalism to overturn a 136 year old precedent in favor of interpreting the 14th Amendment as its framers intended. That is, to guarantee the extension of the federal bill of rights against encroaching state laws.

Apart from federalism concerns, the use of the 14th Amendment to reinterpret the application of the first ten amendments could – as this blog post from the Wall Street Journal explains – make Originalism more attractive to liberal members of the Court. Why? Because instead of looking at 1791 as Scalia does, Justices like Breyer and Ginsburg would look to 1868, the year the 14th Amendment was ratified. (A time when America was rethinking the scope of state’s rights.)

The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case next year promises to be consequential. As usual, what’s at stake is far bigger than the surface level issue that got the parties through the door. Stay tuned…

Comments are closed.