OG--original guarantee

A hurriedly-compiled list of some of Justice Scalia‘s (“AS”) most cogent and bombastic (read benchslap-tastic) points is recounted below. Justice Stevens (“JPL”) wrote a dissent vainly attempting to combat AS on AS’s home court of originalist historical context, and Justice Breyer (“SGB”) authored a dissent devoted to supporting the D.C. (the “District”) gun ban itself. Notably, AS reserves his harshest criticism for JPL (calling him “dead wrong” at one point). See Dist. of Colum. v. Heller, No. 07-290, slip op. at 5-6 n.5 (June 26, 2008).

Part II of the opinion delves into amazingly intricate detail as to what is the meaning of the II Am. AS begins by acknowledging that the II Am. is divided into a prefatory clause (the “well-regulated militia” portion favored by collective right proponents) and an operative clause (the “right of the people” portion favored by individual right proponents). AS makes clear that a prefatory clause may operate to clarify the operative clause, but it cannot “limit or expand the scope of the operative clause.” Id. at 4. He chides JPL for suggesting that such a construction would impermissibly render the prefatory clause without effect, because:

[A] court has no license to make [a clause] do what it was not designed to do. Or to put the point differently, operative provisions should be given effect as operative provisions, and prologues as prologues.

Id. at 4 n.3. Such a construction, AS explains, would illogically “cause the prologue to be used to produce ambiguity rather than just to resolve it.” Id. at 5 n.4.

AS next turns to the individual nature of the right, reminding the dissenting Justices that the other two times the phrase, “right of the people” is used in the Bill of Rights (I & IV Ams.), it is uncontested that such language confers an individual right.

Examining the substance of the right, AS explains:

Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications … and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, … the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.

Id. at 8 (emphasis added) (citations omitted).

AS positively disassembles JPL and the District’s construction of the phrase, “bear Arms:”

In any event, the meaning of “bear arms” that [the District] and [JPL] propose is not even the (sometimes) idiomatic meaning. Rather, they manufacture a hybrid definition, whereby “bear arms” connotes the actual carrying of arms (and therefore is not really an idiom) but only in the service of an organized militia. No dictionary has ever adopted that definition, and we have been apprised of no source that indicates that it carried that meaning at the time of the founding. But it is easy to see why petitioners and the dissent are driven to the hybrid definition. Giving “bear Arms” its idiomatic meaning would cause the protected right to consist of the right to be a soldier or to wage war—an absurdity that no commentator has ever endorsed …. Worse still, the phrase “keep and bear Arms” would be incoherent. The word “Arms” would have two different meanings at once:“weapons” (as the object of “keep”) and (as the object of “bear”) one-half of an idiom. It would be rather like saying “He filled and kicked the bucket” to mean “He filled the bucket and died.” Grotesque.

Id. at 13 (emphasis added) (citations omitted).

AS was apparently less swayed by the amicus brief filed by a group of linguists than was JPL, remarking:

A purposive qualifying phrase that contradicts the word or phrase it modifies is unknown this side of the looking glass (except, apparently, in some courses on Linguistics).

Id. at 15 (emphasis added).

AS is also unmoved by JPL’s creative grammatical interpretation of the II Am.:

[JPL] believes that the unitary meaning of “keep and bear Arms” is established by the [II Am.]’s calling it a “right” (singular) rather than “rights” (plural) …. There is nothing to this.

Id. at 18 (emphasis added). AS adds in a footnote:

Faced with this clear historical usage, [JPL] resorts to the bizarre argument that because the word “to” is not included before “bear” (whereas it is included before “petition” in the First Amendment), the unitary meaning of “to keep and bear” is established …. We have never heard of the proposition that omitting repetition of the “to” causes two verbs with different meanings to become one. A promise “to support and to defend the Constitution ofthe United States” is not a whit different from a promise “to supportand defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Id. at 18 n.14 (emphasis added).

Unsurprisingly, when JPL attempts to broadside AS on his own turf—that of interpreting legislative history—AS is blunt: “[JPL] flatly misreads the historical record.” Id. at 30. I think the most revealing barb aimed at JPL by AS is also the most prescient. Replying to JPL’s insistence that commentary subsequent to the ratification of the II Am. somehow bore upon the understanding of those who ratified it, AS is brilliant (as usual):

Before proceeding, however, we take issue with [JPL]’ equating of these sources with postenactment legislative history, a comparison that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of a court’s interpretive task …. “Legislative history,” of course, refers to the pre-enactment statements of those who drafted or voted for a law; it is considered persuasive by some, not because they reflect the general understanding of the disputed terms, but because the legislators who heard or read those statements presumably voted with that understanding …. “Postenactment legislative history,” … a deprecatory contradiction in terms, refers to statements of those who drafted or voted for the law that are made after its enactment and hence could have had no effect on the congressional vote.

Id. at 32 (emphasis added). In one fell swoop, AS calls out the jurisprudentially liberal wing of the Court’s central tenet of juristic philosophy. Masterful.

AS easily sweeps aside JPL and the District’s contention that United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939) could be read to support only a militia’s right to bear arms because:

Had the Court believed that the Second Amendment protects only those serving in the militia, it would have been odd to examine the character of the weapon rather than simply note that the two crooks were not militiamen …. It is particularly wrongheaded to read Miller for more than what it said, because the case did not even purport to be a thorough examination of the Second Amendment.

Id. at 50 (emphasis added).

One of my favorite passages is a subtle dig at JPL’s professed concern for the judiciary at the expense of the citizenry:

As for the “hundreds of judges,” … who have relied on the view of the Second Amendment [JPL] claims we endorsed in Miller: If so, they overread Miller. And their erroneous reliance upon an uncontested and virtually unreasoned case cannot nullify the reliance of millions of Americans (as our historical analysis has shown) upon the true meaning of the right to keep and bear arms.

Id. at 52, n.24 (emphasis added). Game … set … match.

AS concludes by discounting the faux concern raised by SGB that the majority opinion “leav[es] so many applications of the right to keep and bear arms in doubt,” reminding his colleague that:

[S]ince this case represents this Court’s first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment, one should not expect it to clarify the entire field, any more than … our first in-depth Free Exercise Clause case, left that area in a state of utter certainty.

Id. at 63 (citations omitted).

AS’s second-to-last sentence in the opinion is a skillfully-drafted and subtle rebuttal of the use of the Court by his jurisprudentially liberal colleagues—past and present—to juristically abrogate the Constitution based on modern constructions of ancient legal precepts. In it he concludes that, while the political or cultural viability of the II Am. in modern society:

[I]s perhaps debatable, … what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.

Id. at 64 (emphasis added).

Also of note, AS cites not to just one, but two three of Professor Volokh‘s articles in the majority opinion. That is a very rare honor indeed, but also an undisputedly well-deserved one by Professor Volokh. See id at 3, 11 n.8, 24.

Also, one of the cites is to Texas’s very own Review of Law & Politics, congrats.

* * * UPDATE * * *

More quotes from the majority opinion less of the benchslapping variety can be found at SCOTUSBlog.

Thx to the Heller majority, and as always, to Justice Scalia for his intellect and wit

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