Supreme Court Strikes Down Chicago’s 30-Year-Old Handgun Ban
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GWEN IFILL: Gun rights advocates won a far-reaching victory today before the U.S. Supreme Court. That led the list of several major decisions handed down on the busy final day of the court’s term.
The gun rights decision came on a 5-4 vote, with the high court’s conservatives in the majority. In ruling against the Chicago handgun ban, the decision expanded the reach of the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the Second Amendment applies equally to the federal government and the states.
Two years ago, the court struck down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban, but the nation’s capital is a federal city, so that decision applied only to federal law. Today’s decision applies nationwide.
Colleen Lawson, one of the plaintiffs who challenged the Chicago law, said the ruling serves notice to criminals.
COLLEEN LAWSON, plaintiff: So, I am not threatening to go out and do anything to anyone. I’m just saying that you may not come into our homes anymore. To those who would prey upon the citizens of the city of Chicago, to the criminals, I would like to say that the Chicago crime buffet is over. We are not prey.
GWEN IFILL: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley expressed disappointment and said he now expects the city’s law to be formally overturned by the lower court.
RICHARD DALEY, D, mayor of Chicago: We’re still reviewing the entire decision, but it means that Chicago’s current handgun ban is unenforceable. So, we’re working to rewrite our ordinance in a reasonable and responsible way to protect Second Amendment rights, protect Chicagoans from gun violence.
GWEN IFILL: The justices also ruled 5-4 in a case born of the Enron scandal, striking down part of the Sarbanes-Oxley anti-fraud law enacted after the company’s collapse.
By that same margin, they also said a California law school doesn’t have to recognize a Christian group that bans gay members. The final day flurry of activity also marked the end of John Paul Stevens’ 35-year tenure on the high court, and it was a day of mourning for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her husband, Martin Ginsburg, passed away over the weekend.
JEFFREY BROWN: We continue our look at the gun rights decision now with Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal.” She was in the courtroom today and joins us now from Capitol Hill, where she’s been covering the Elena Kagan confirmation hearings for us.
So, Marcia, first a case in Washington, D.C., then this challenge in Chicago. What other background do we need to know to understand how this came to the court?
MARCIA COYLE, “The National Law Journal”: Jeff, this case came to the court because of a challenge brought by a group of residents of Chicago and its suburb, Oak Park, Illinois, as well as local and national chapters of the National Rifle Association.
These suits were ready to go really after the Supreme Court ruled two years ago that the Second Amendment protects a right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, what was the key issue in this case? And what did the majority decide?
MARCIA COYLE: Well, as Justice Alito pointed out in his opinion today, the Bill of Rights was originally viewed by the framers to protect us against actions by the federal government.
But, after the Civil War and with the adoption of post-Civil War amendments, the court began to look at the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, and found that it actually prevented states from infringing certain rights protected by the Bill of Rights.
So, the question was, what about the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights? Not all of the Bill of Rights have been held to apply to actions by state government. Justice Alito said today that the test here really is, is this a right that is fundamental to our concept of ordered liberty?
Basically, is it deeply embedded in American history and tradition? So, his opinion spent a lot of time tracing the history of the right of self-defense. And he found that this was a fundamental right. And so it could be incorporated to the states through the 14th Amendment due process clause.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, I pulled out that line from the ruling. He said, “Self-defense is a basic right recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day.”
So, that — that explains the importance of the right and the reasoning for applying it beyond the federal government.
MARCIA COYLE: That’s exactly right.
And, of course, Jeff, there was a strong dissent by four justices, just as those same justices dissented from the original Second Amendment ruling two years ago. Justice Stevens wrote separately, as did Justice Breyer. And, first, they disagreed with Justice Alito’s historical analysis of a right of self-defense.
They said that the Second Amendment, the framers were really first concerned with disarming the militia, and self-defense was a secondary concern. And Justice Breyer said that he didn’t feel that you could say this was a fundamental right deeply embedded in American history and tradition, because there is a lot of disagreement. There is no consensus about gun rights in this country.
And he felt that state legislatures, not courts, were the proper place to work through these issues.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, this gets sent back to the lower court, right?
MARCIA COYLE: Yes, it does. The court didn’t really rule specifically on the constitutionality of the Chicago and Oakwood Park gun ordinances. It dealt with the — whether it could — the Second Amendment could apply to the states. Now it goes back to those lower courts, where it seems almost inevitable that those gun ordinances will be struck down.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Marcia, just finally here in our first go-round with you, what was the atmosphere in the court today? What was it like?
MARCIA COYLE: Well, it was subdued, actually. And I think it’s because Justice Ginsburg’s husband died yesterday. And she was actually on the bench. She wrote the majority opinion in the church-state case that was announced today. And she read a summary of it from the bench.
And I think it was also subdued because I’m sure the justices are saddened by Justice John Paul Stevens’ retirement. Chief Justice Roberts read a letter that the justices had sent to him, expressing that sadness.
And Justice Stevens read from the bench the letter he had sent to his colleagues about how much he enjoyed the friendships they had with him. I should also note that Justice — Chief Justice Roberts did note the passing of Justice Ginsburg’s husband and read about his long and highly favorable career in the law.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Marcia Coyle, thanks for this. And we will talk to you again later in the program.
MARCIA COYLE: OK. Thank you, Jeff.