Heller Sequels And 2nd Amendment, Still Undecided:Part 3

August 26, 2017

In Parts 1 and 2 of his recently-published article, “Heller Sequels and 2nd Amendment, Still Undecided: Part 1 (Law 360 Jul. 20, 2017) and “Heller Sequels and 2nd Amendment, Still Undecided: Part 2 (Law 360 Aug. 3, 2017), Mr. Ludwig showed how a divided Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller (2008) “overlook[ed] the full text” of the Second Amendment, among other things, to “‘creat[e] a new blockbuster’ individual right to guns ‘not apparent to the court for over two centuries,’ as critiqued by Fourth Circuit Judge Harvey Wilkinson,” while seeming “not to want ‘to deal with any of the more unpleasant consequences of such a right.’” “Relying on dictionaries and English history a century earlier, and disregarding its debates, drafting, and American history,” Mr. Ludwig makes clear that the majority showed “no understanding of the problems confronting the Framers, which had nothing to do with an individual right.” Also overlooked “is another unpleasant consequence: Heller, in taking legislative ‘policy choices off the table,’ never decided the full amendment, including the prohibition and verb (‘infringed’) on which it rests.”

In the third and final segment of his article, “Heller Sequels and 2nd Amendment, Still Undecided: Part 3” (Law 360 Aug. 24, 2017) Mr. Ludwig concludes that “Heller, not having decided the full text, has no binding effect. Its partial constructs are so untenable and unsupported, little remains of its implied right(s), that Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner scorned as a ‘snow job’ and Chief Justice Warren Burger earlier called a ‘fraud.’” Mr. Ludwig raises “the pernicious consequences of allowing Heller’s oversights, guesswork, and dicta, and not the people’s legislatures, to determine gun policy, leading to an ‘epidemic’ of gun proliferation and violence.”

Mr. Ludwig shows that Heller, based on a series of “mass oversights,” is only a “partial construction of the prefatory and rights clauses, out of context, without construing the prohibitory clause.” And in “overturning 200 years of understanding, it cited remarkably little or no support in implying each of the component individual rights in announced: (1) to ‘handgun possession’ and to ‘carry it in the home,’ (2) to resist tyrannical government, and (3) to ‘lawful weapons … possessed in the home.’” Mr. Ludwig then illustrates how “its lack of support is apparent in its literal definitions, empty assertions, and conclusory analyses of the relation between the clauses it did construe.”

In implying its oddly-worded right to “handgun possession” and to “carry it in the home,” the Heller Court, in an “epic oversight,” “purported to decide” the amendment “without considering its full text. That is remarkable, especially for Justice Scalia and other court textualists. But for any judge to decide, or lawyer to advocate, the Constitution without addressing its full wording borders on malpractice.” Justice Scalia’s “own treatise states: ‘every word and every provision is to be given effect. None should be ignored,’—one of many such canons not followed in Heller, which simply wrote off the last provision of the Second Amendment. Or out of the Constitution, and with it, a clear exegesis of the ‘baffling’ amendment.”

“Almost as surprising is the failure by the court, lawyers and academy to connect constitutional dots: to recognize that ‘infringed’ and ‘abridged,’” which Heller impermissibly transposed, “are terms of art, one protecting sovereign and the other individual rights.”

So too is Heller’s perpetuation of the notion of a right to guns “as a check on tyranny, the pernicious pablum of the National Rifle Association and other gun groups,” which has persisted too long. “Presented an opportunity to put this dangerous distraction to rest, the majority, needing some rationale to explain how the preamble fit its implied right, endorsed it.” Predictably since, “there have been almost weekly ‘incidents of insurrectionist violence (or the promotion of such violence),’ as catalogued by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence on its ‘Insurrectionism Timeline.’”

The “great lesson” that a “constitutional republic ‘leaves no room for insurrection’” (cited by Thomas Paine and later Abraham Lincoln), “and the corresponding ‘axiom of our political system’” that federal and state governments ensure constitutional order in each other (as explained by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison), “both seem to have been lost on the court. Heller undermines the former by perpetuating insurrectionist myth,” and “defeats the latter” by “tossing federalism and the existential right of states to arm militia, preserved by the Second Amendment, ‘overboard like tea.’”

“It is also astonishing the court cited as its sole authority—in declaring ‘hundreds of judges’ ‘overread’” its unanimous” decision in U.S. v. Miller (1939) “that ‘arms’ meant ‘military equipment’—a single billy-club case (citing a bladed-weapons encyclopedia) to hold militiamen could bring any ‘lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty.’ That 1980 case and flimsy historical evidence, which the majority underread, if read at all, was the linchpin for its blockbuster right.” Just as astounding, the fact “that lawyers and judges are still not even reading a key case from 1980 and verifying its citations” indicates “they are not doing likewise for the founding record from the 1780s.”

With its “stunning” oversights, Heller, “far from a ‘mighty rock’” as Justice Scalia dismissed the court’s last unanimous decision, rests itself “on sand,” and “settled nothing at all.” Its “own conclusion that its construction no longer (if ever) served the object of preserving state militia, when another did and does, only confirms the impropriety of its implied right.”

And these, as Mr. Ludwig notes, “are just some of the mass oversights that have led to Heller purporting to decide the Second Amendment by implication and guesswork, while taking legislative policy choices off the table.”

“Paying the price of epic legal oversights and miscalculation,” contributing to “an epidemic of gun proliferation and violence, are scores of Americans with their lives each day. Hundreds more are physically or psychologically wounded, their families and communities with them, having economic consequences not only for dependents, but police and health services left to deal with the carnage. Or police themselves become part of the carnage, or add to it when shooting unarmed citizens, fearful of shadows (as Gen. Washington described militiamen), in attempting to serve communities awash in guns.”

Since Heller, particularly after McDonald v. Chicago (2010) expanded its holding against the states, “guns exploded past the population for the first time, to 357 million as of 2013 data. Experiencing now an ‘epidemic of gun violence’ decried in historic 2015 and 2016 front-page and presidential op-eds, which has since grown worse, 36,000 Americans die every year from guns, or over 90 each day, one every 15 minutes.”

The three-part article concludes: “As reminded by Justice Breyer, ‘we’re human, and when it’s 5-4, obviously somebody’s wrong.’ Justice Scalia, who counseled judicial ‘self-abnegation’ in divining original intent, issued his own mea culpa in 2015 about a case of ‘judge-invented doctrine’ and ‘mess that I helped make,’ stating ‘its error has grown more glaringly obvious’ and ‘stare decisis does not recommend its retention.’ Given ‘glaringly obvious’ error in overlooking constitutional text, among other things, it’s time for the courts to apply that candor to the ill-starred Heller.”


This blog is excerpted from Robert Ludwig’s article, © 2017 All rights reserved. For further information, contact Mr. Ludwig at rludwig@ludwigrobinson.com or 202-289-7603.