Legally sufficient


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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Say hello to my little friend!

SCOTUS just announced it has affirmed the D.C. Circuit’s decision striking down the District of Columbia’s gun ban.

More details on the text of the opinion (how far it goes in upholding an individual right to bear arms, etc.) as they become available.

* * * UPDATE * * *

From SCOTUSBlog:

10:13 Ben Winograd –
The Court has released the opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290), on whether the District’s firearms regulations – which bar the possession of handguns and require shotguns and rifles to be kept disassembled or under trigger lock – violate the Second Amendment. The ruling below, which struck down the provisions in question, is affirmed.

Justice Scalia wrote the opinion. Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg. We will provide a link to the decision as soon as it is available.

10:13 Tom Goldstein – Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm.

(emphasis added).

* * * UPDATED UPDATE * * *

No plurality and and two dissents (so should be fairly clear precedent).

* * * MORE UPDATES * * *

From SCOTUSBlog:

In District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290), the Court nullified two provisions of the city of Washington’s strict 1976 gun control law: a flat ban on possessing a gun in one’s home, and a requirement that any gun — except one kept at a business — must be unloaded and disassembled or have a trigger lock in place. The Court said it was not passing on a part of the law requiring that guns be licensed

* ** Read the opinion HERE * * *

Thx to SCOTUSBlog

I’ve probably already derived too much jurisprudential pleasure from analyzing the SCOTUS plurality opinion handed down this past April in Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439, slip op. (Apr. 16, 2008 ), but the Onion has only just begun to analyze its merits.

* * * WARNING, NSFW LANGUAGE * * *

“I am the Law!”

Thx to Volokh

Lady Justice

The recent headlines concerning Chief Judge Kozinski have reminded me of the central misunderstanding or willful ignorance some judicial critics suffer from in their critiques of the judiciary. Namely, their steadfast belief that the mere appearance of impropriety must mean there is actual ethical impropriety afoot, and the absence of such appearances must mean there is none.

This week, I came across an op-ed Chief Kozinski wrote for Legal Affairs magazine back in 2005 regarding the appearance of impropriety and found it refreshingly blunt and accurate.

My problem with the appearance-of-impropriety standard is that it promotes the wrong idea—that in order to keep judges from acting unethically, ethical rules must prevent judges from appearing to act unethically. It also seems to suggest the converse: that if judges appear to be acting ethically, they probably are. Nothing could be further from the truth. A judge can appear to act ethically and still betray his responsibility in essential respects and in ways no one will ever know about[, namely] … [g]iving short shrift to small cases, signing off on the work of staff and calling it my own, bending the law to reach a result I like, and the dozens of other ways in which I feel the urge to do something unethical, yet wholly undetectable by anyone other than me.

As to the furor that is often raised about a judge presiding over a case in which the judge has at least somewhat of a financial interest, Chief Kozinski explained:

I file a financial disclosure report every year, giving the world a list of my assets, just so litigating parties can confirm that I did not—God forbid—sit in a case involving a corporation whose stock I hold. I find this requirement a nuisance and a bit dangerous and intrusive, because it makes public information about me and my family that I would prefer to keep private. But the report is required by law and is considered an important safeguard of judicial integrity.

Yet I can’t imagine that I could possibly be tempted to change my vote in a case because I own stock in one of the parties. If money mattered to me, I would be in private practice and, in a month or a week—maybe an hour—I would make much more than my one hundred shares of AT&T could conceivably change in value based on my vote in a case. The idea that I would give up my honest judgment in a case for a few dollars is beyond silly—it’s ludicrous and insulting.

Most professional court critics either can’t comprehend or refuse to accept that a jurist wouldn’t change his or her vote in a matter just because there might be some financial advantage to be gained by doing so.

I continue to believe that this disconnect on the part of these critics emanates from their true ignorance of just how profitable and lucrative private practice is and would undoubtedly be for an appellate judge who left the bench. As I discussed in a post almost a year ago regarding whether campaign contributions to Texas judges are really such an irresistibly corrupting force (a generally bad idea—yes, absolutely corrupting—no):

Partners at BigTex firms in this state (where the majority of sitting SCOTX Justices have begun their practices) routinely make anywhere from $400k to $2.5 M per year. Counting the new raise SCOTX Justices just received in 2005, they now make $150k per year, a full $10k less than their clerks do as soon as they walk out of the Tom C. Clark building.

How on Earth could a few thousand or even a few million in campaign donations (which must be reported and can’t be spent on personal expenses without risking imprisonment and disbarment) be even slightly corrupting to someone who could make that much and more in the private sector without any of the ethics reporting requirements or public scrutiny?

The sheer ignorance of some like Texas Watch or Texans for Public Justice of the personal financial sacrifice imposed by choosing to sit on the bench instead of in a firm office is glaring. Anyone so easily corrupted by money would never choose to walk away from the private sector in order to someday “pay back” donors with favorable decisions, all for a relative pittance in compensation.

Thx to Chief Kozinski and Legal Affairs

El Jefe

One might as well treat Justice Scalia‘s dissent from last week’s majority opinion in Boumediene v. Bush, Nos. 06-1195 & 06-1196 (June 12, 2008) as an addendum to his recent legal writing tome with Bryan Garner, largely and frustratingly unavailable here in Austin.

This is because it illustrates how to write a scathing yet persuasive dissent that will likely be viewed by future Justices and Court observers in much the same jurisprudential light as Justice Jackson‘s dissent from the majority opinion in Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 242 (1944) (Jackson, J. dissenting) is now seen, which famously rebuked the majority’s condoning of the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during WWII.

Justice Scalia’s dissent is masterful both in its tone and its construction. Part I lays out the policy fallout from the decision (i.e., the practical, real-world implications). Part II excoriates the majority’s attempt to brazenly recast the governing precedent, Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950). Part III traces the juristic history of the writ of habeas corpus from its codification in 1679 Britain to the present day, and explains why the majority’s decision is such a stunning departure from the entirety of Western common law previously construing and defining the boundaries of the writ.

As far as the text itself, no paraphrasing can do it justice. Below are selected excerpts from the opinon.

The classic first sentence:

Today, for the first time in our Nation’s history, the Court confers a constitutional right to habeas corpus on alien enemies detained abroad by our military forces in the course of an ongoing war.

Boumediene, slip op. at 1 (Scalia, J. dissenting, joined by Roberts, C.J., Thomas and Alito, J.J.). And then, the meat of Part I:

The game of bait-and-switch that today’s opinion plays upon the Nation’s Commander in Chief will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.

Id. at 2. Talk about “plain language,” you can’t get much plainer than that.

During the 1995 prosecution of Omar Abdel Rahman, federal prosecutors gave the namesof 200 unindicted co-conspirators to the “Blind Sheik’s” defense lawyers; that information was in the hands of Osama Bin Laden within two weeks. In another case, trial testimony revealed to the enemy that the United States had been monitoring their cellular network, whereupon they promptly stopped using it, enabling more of them to evade capture and continue their atrocities.

Id. at 4-5 (citations omitted). After recounting the bromide four of the five-Justice majority in Boumediene previously offered in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557, 636 (2006) (Breyer, J., concurring in part, joined by Kennedy, Souter, and Ginsburg, J.J.)—namely that “[n]othing prevents the President from returing to Congress to seek the authority [for trial by military commission] he believes necessary”—Justice Scalia curtly observes:

Turns out they were just kidding.

Boumediene, slip op. at 5 (Scalia, J. dissenting, joined by Roberts, C.J., Thomas and Alito, J.J.).

What competence does the Court have to second-guess the judgment of Congress and the President on such a point? None whatever. But the Court blunders in nonetheless. Henceforth, as today’s opinion makes unnervingly clear, how to handle enemy prisonersin this war will ultimately lie with the branch that knows least about the national security concerns that the subject entails.

Id. at 6. Ouch.

It is both irrational and arrogant to say that the answer [to the question of “whether the Constitution confers habeas jurisdiction on federal courtsto decide petitioners’ claims”] must be yes, because otherwise we would not be supreme.

Id. at 18. Calling out his colleagues for their juristic arrogance. And from the final paragraph:

Today the Court warps our Constitution in a way that goes beyond the narrow issue of the reach of the Suspension Clause, invoking judicially brainstormed separation of-powers principles to establish a manipulable “functional” test for the extraterritorial reach of habeas corpus (and, no doubt, for the extraterritorial reach of other constitutional protections as well). It blatantly misdescribes important precedents, most conspicuously Justice Jackson’s opinion for the Court in Johnson v. Eisentrager. It breaks a chain of precedent as old as the common law that prohibits judicial inquiry into detentions of aliens abroad absent statutory authorization.

And the most sobering, bold, and blood-chilling line I think I may have ever read in a SCOTUS dissent, the last line cautions:

The Nation will live to regret what the Court has done today.

Let’s hope not.

* * * UPDATE * * *

For a fascinating examination of the Boumediene decision, see Professor John Yoo‘s op-ed in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. This article is all the more interesting because Justice Scalia cites in his dissent to a memo Professor Yoo authored while at the Office of Legal Counsel that relied upon the then-accepted interpretation of Eisentrager. See Boumediene, slip op. at 3 (Scalia, J. dissenting, joined by Roberts, C.J., Thomas and Alito, J.J.).

* * * UPDATED UPDATE * * *

It is humorous to note that Justice Scalia “sics” the Justice he has publicly acknowledged as the best writer ever to sit on the Court, Justice Jackson, for the former Justice’s use of the phrase, “cited to [x case],” instead of “cited [x case] to [y court].” Id. at 9. So strong is Justice Scalia’s dislike for this phrasing that he has stated its use makes the author sound “illiterate.”


Thx to Justice Scalia for his incomparable wit and eloquence.

Blast from the past

Yesterday, former Justice Thomas clerk and hopefully-not-former syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham posted the following message on her website giving some insight into why she has been suddenly absent from the airwaves for the past week and a half:

NOTE TO LAURA LISTENERS

Due to contractual obligations, for the present time I am unable to reveal why I am not currently hosting The Laura Ingraham Show. Rest assured, this absence is not of my choosing, nor is it health or family related. I am ready, willing and eager to continue the conversation we started seven years ago about politics and the culture. (Heck, if cancer couldn’t keep me off the airwaves for long, nothing will.) Keep checking the site for a schedule of my appearances on the Fox News Channel. All queries regarding my on-air status should be directed to Talk Radio Network’s management at 541 474 2297 or send an email. Thanks for sticking with me, and…Power to the People!

Just breaking this afternoon, Laura will make her second foray into hosting her own cable news show. She was one of MSNBC‘s first hosts, headlining Watch It! which came on right after Imus. Beginning next week, she’ll host Just In during the 4pmCT timeslot on Fox.

Best of luck to her both with her new show and with her old one as well.

Thx to TV Newser

Defense lawyers sometimes take a jaded views of some plaintiffs’ more outlandish claims of purported injury. On occasion, the defense bar may have even dreamed of filing an answer worded similarly to this one:

* * * NSFW * * *

Nice

This answer, it turns out, was never actually filed and was instead merely an inside joke that escaped into the blogosphere.

Thx to Above the Law

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