ABA Case Update: U.S. Supreme Court Case Related to Criminal Justice

A Service from the ABA Criminal Justice Section (CJS) *, http://www.abanet.org/crimjust*

United States Supreme Court Decision: Decided: June 28, 2010
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution protects an individual’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms from interference by state or local gun control legislation.

In 2008, the Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. ___ that the Second Amendment right for an individual to keep and bear arms for self-defense was infringed upon by a District of Columbia gun control law banning the possession of guns in the home. Immediately following the Heller ruling, this federal suit was filed in Chicago, alleging that the city’s law banning possession of unregistered handguns was violating the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. Petitioners argued that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms was protected by both the Privileges or Immunities clause and the Due Process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. Noting that the Heller ruling had refrained from deciding whether the Second Amendment applied to state and local legislation, the District Court upheld the Chicago law while citing precedent from several previous handgun ban cases. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Court’s decision traced the evolution of previous Supreme Court rulings which sought to determine which elements within the Bill of Rights were protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against state and local infringement. The Court’s 1873 decision in Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, called for a very narrow view of the Fourteenth Amendment’s applicability to state law. Using Slaughter-House as precedent, the Court decided during the late 19th century in Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, Presser, 116 U. S. 252, and Miller, 153 U. S. 535 that Second Amendment rights were not covered under the Fourteenth Amendment. Over time, the Court gradually widened its interpretation, later holding that an element in the Bill of Rights that was “fundamental to our Nation’s particular scheme of ordered liberty and system of justice” would be protected by the Fourteenth Amendment (Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U. S. 145, 149). The Court also cited Heller’s holding that the right to self-defense, protected by the Second Amendment, was held to be a “fundamental” right as defined in Duncan. In addition, the Court noted that Congressional debates over the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification “referred to the right to keep and bear arms as a fundamental right deserving of protection.” Accordingly, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms against infringement by state or local legislation.

Judgment reversed and remanded.

ALITO, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II–A, II–B, II–D, III–A, and III–B, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II–C, IV, and V, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA and KENNEDY, JJ., join. SCALIA, J., filed a concurring opinion. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined.

Decision available at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1521.pdf

Authored by: Caleb W. Skeath, CJS Intern _________________________________________ *We both acknowledge and appreciate the efforts and dedication of the CJS Legal Intern Caleb W. Skeath in preparing the above commentary.

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