Monday, December 13, 2010

One More Response To Judge Breyer

From: Justice Stephen Breyer on "Fox News Sunday.": "Watch here. Chris Wallace does a great job of needling him about things Breyer's written about constitutional interpretation and, Breyer, as I'd expect, rises to the occasion. Breyer literally waves the Constitution around, in tiny booklet form, and figuratively waves around a bigger book, his book "Making Our Democracy Work."

Now, let's rummage through the transcript. Chris Wallace questions him about "just applying the law as written," and Breyer plugs in the expected elementary lesson about the concision of the phrases in the Constitution and the need to apply them in the changed circumstances of the modern world (airplanes! the internet!), and then Wallace displays the text of the 2d Amendment:
WALLACE: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms" -- the right of the people to keep and bear arms -- "shall not be infringed." Now, Justice, I understand why, as a matter of policy, in a world with a lot of urban violence and big cities, that some people would say we need gun control, particularly in a big city like Washington, as they have here, and in Chicago. You ruled in both of those cases. And in both cases the court voted twice over your dissent that the founders meant what they said, people have a right to bear arms.
Breyer, of course, is ready for this:
BREYER: Yes. Yes. That's a wonderful example because, of course, it's not a matter of policy. It is a matter of what those framers intended. And you saw that first phrase, "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." What does that mean, the militia? Historians told us, and the dissenters thought they were right, that what that meant was that James Madison, thinking, "I've got to get this document ratified," was worried about opponents who would think Congress would call up state militias and nationalize them. "That can't happen," said Madison. And therefore, he wrote the Second Amendment to prove it. Now, if that was his motive historically, the dissenters were right.
There's some talk about judges acting like judges and how history can't answer some of the details. How do the old words and the old intent apply to new things? Breyer lists machine guns and torpedoes, and then, deviously, handguns. Wallace responds:
WALLACE: I understand. But it certainly didn't provide for a ban, at least that's what the court's decision was, your court's -- it didn't provide for a ban on all handguns as they have here in Washington, D.C.

BREYER: Are you a sportsman? Do you like to shoot pistols at targets? Well, get on the subway and go to Maryland. There is no problem, I don't think, for anyone who really wants to have...

WALLACE: But -- but it's...

BREYER: ... a gun.

WALLACE: ... but that's a policy issue. That's not a constitutional issue.
Breyer chooses not to jump on this point, perhaps because he'd have to say things that conservatives say. He'd have to promote federalism. Let me sketch it out.

If there isn't a right covering this particular subject, then state and local government will be able to legislate the policies that they, as a community, think are best. Yes, it's a policy issue, and — Breyer would say, if he'd gone on — that's why it's appropriate for legislative bodies to make decisions about it. If you don't like those decisions, the great thing about the United States is that you can move around and go to places that have policy preferences that suit your tastes. You have a right to travel and a right to change your residence to another state. And you also have the right to participate in politics, so there's also the alternative of trying to get the law in your state or city changed, so that handguns are not banned. Breyer's approach to the Second Amendment lets the people make the gun control laws what they want them to be and, when they do, they won't get caught up in litigation over the choices they make.

This is what conservatives say all the time about abortion and the separation of church and state (to cite the 2 most glaring examples). But here's Right Wing News — Chris Wysocki — excoriating Breyer for saying "get on the subway and go to Maryland."
Mind-boggling really, isn't it? Gee little black girl, do you want to go to the same school as white girls? Well, get on the subway and go to Maryland!
Well, no. There is a federal constitutional right covering that point, so you don't get the state-to-state variation. And that's the question: Is it a federal constitutional right or not? When you're arguing that there isn't a right, you're saying the law can vary from state to state. When is that intolerable and when isn't it? We all agree (now) to the uniform resolution of the school segregation problem that excluded decentralized decisionmaking. There is an Equal Protection right.

But there was, recently, a disagreement about the Second Amendment, and Breyer was on the side that thought there was no individual right. Put another way, Breyer's side of the Court thought that decentralized policymaking could govern. Do you think that's terrible? If you believe that there's a right, then, yes, of course, you do. But think of something else, where you think the Court is wrong about saying there's a right — perhaps, for you, abortion — and then, don't you remember all the times you made the argument that it wouldn't be so terrible because individual states could make their own decisions and people could move (or travel) to the states that gave them what they wanted?

Wysocki continues:
So mister, what if you are in a wheelchair? This doctor's office has stairs. If you want to see an accessible doctor, get on the subway and go to Maryland!
Whoa! You think the Constitution obliges private citizens, like doctors, to make their buildings wheelchair accessible?! That's so left-wing! Check your blog's name! What's the "Right Wing News" today, that righties have gone all lefty? That would be news!

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