Instant Analysis of the Respondent Brief of the City of Chicago in McDonald v. Chicago

December 31st, 2009

Here is my Instant Analysis of the city of Chicago’s Respondent Brief in McDonald v. Chicago. You can download the brief here. For my thoughts on McDonald and Privileges or Immunities, see my article, co-authored with Ilya Shapiro, titled Keeping Pandora’s Box Sealed: Privileges or Immunities, The Constitution in 2020, and Properly Extending the Right to Keep and Bear Arms to the States, forthcoming in the Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy.

In short, Chicago argues:


A Provision Of The Bill Of Rights Applies To The States Under The Due Process Clause If It Is “Implicit In The Concept Of Ordered Liberty.” Regulation Or Prohibition Of Fire- arms, Particularly Handguns, May Reasonably Be Thought To Preserve, Not Intrude On, Ordered Liberty


Even If Viewed De Novo, The Histor- ical Record Provides No Basis For Imposing The Second Amendment On The States. Petitioners Fail To Carry Their Bur- den Of Showing That This Court Should Abandon Its Traditional Due Process Approach To Incorporation

I have only given this brief a cursory glance, but a few things jump out at me.

1. First, the Respondents take on the “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” incorporation test is a new one for me.

Bill of Rights provisions are incorporated into the Due Process Clause only if they are implicit in the concept of ordered liberty . . . Thus, Chicago and Oak Park may reasonably conclude that in their communities, handgun bans or other stringent regulations are the most effective means to reduce fear, violence, injury, and death, thereby enhancing, not detracting from, a system of ordered liberty

Because handguns are so well adapted for the commission of crimes and the infliction of injury and death, stringent handgun regulations, including prohibitions, can be reasonably thought to create the conditions necessary to foster ordered liberty, rather than detracting from it.

Because guns lead to violence, in order to promote liberty, the states must be able to ban guns. To eliminate the states ability to ban gun actually decreases liberty. This is a very curious definition of liberty. Under this interpretation, in order for some people to be free from violence, others need to be forcibly disarmed and denied of their liberty.

2. Second, the Respondents fall into the trap of considering originalism at the wrong time. When considering the right to keep and bear arms as applied to the states, the key year is 1868, and not 1791. Yet, they rehash the debates from Heller about the right during the time of the Revolution. While they discuss the ratification of the 14th amendment, this discussion of the ratification of the 2nd amendment has limited utility.

Second Amendment, that history does not support incorporation. Although a right to fire- arms for personal use was recognized in a variety of sources of law that pre-existed the Constitution, District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008), makes clear that it was not included in the Bill of Rights for its own sake or to protect it against the political process; rather, it was codified to protect the militia by eliminating the threat that the federal government would take away the arms necessary for militia service. Nothing in the congressional debate over the Amendment suggests any view that a private arms right unconnected to preservation of the militia was thought implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. The scope of the Second Amendment right— weapons in common use—also reflects its purpose of protecting the militia, rather than an individual right related to self-defense, since the Second Amendment protects weapons regardless of whether they are useful for self-defense.

The congressional debate surrounding Madison’s proposal for the Second Amendment tends to confirm that conclusion. If the Second Amendment right were thought essential to protect a non-militia-related personal liberty from governmental intrusion and from the political process, some trace of that belief would likely have surfaced. But nothing in the con- gressional debate over Madison’s proposal for the Second Amendment suggests any view that a private arms right unconnected to preservation of the militia was essential. See The Complete Bill of Rights: The Drafts, Debates, Sources, and Origins, 169-76, 185-91 (Cogan ed. 1997); Jack Rakove, The Second Amend- ment: The Highest Stage of Originalism, 76 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 103, 127-28 (2000).20

3. Third, in their treatment of Slaughter-House, the Brief omits any reference to the near-universal academic consensus that it was wrongly decided. The best argument they make finds that the Justices on the Slaughter-House court were 20 years removed from the 14th amendment, and were in the best position to understand the original meaning of the P/I clause. This is mildly persuasive, but I would have preferred to see substantive responses to the literature showing how Slaughter-House was correct.

4. Fourth, their reliance on Federalism to justify the ban is questionable. While the states can, and should be, laboratories to experiment, legislatures are still bound by the Constitution as a floor.

The genius of our federal system ordinarily leaves this type of social problem to be worked out by state and local governments, without a nationally imposed solution excluding one choice or the other. See United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 618 (2000) (“[W]e can think of no better example of the police power, which the Founders denied the National Government and reposed in the States, than the suppression of violent crime and vindication of its victims.”).

A state cannot act as a laboratory by infringing a person’s freedom from unreasonable search and seizure because the person is dangerous. No more should a state be able to deny a person’s right to self-defense because it could be “dangerous.” The Federalism argument just seems rather weak.

5. Fifth, the arguments for stare decisis should have been expected. Yet, the Petitioners do not ask for the Court to displace the modern substantive due process jurisprudence, contrary to the Respondent’s assertions.

The current rule is workable and venera- ble; significant reliance interests are in place; and there is nothing petitioners cite that was not known to and considered by the Court whose Members actually lived through the Civil War and Reconstruc- tion. Adopting petitioners’ view would throw into doubt the rights of aliens and corporations; make the Grand Jury Clause and Seventh Amendment appli- cable to the States; and unsettle the legal status of unenumerated rights, both those that have been recognized and those that have not. Stare decisis concerns are of overwhelming force in this case.

Overruling Slaughter-House and its progeny at this late date would upset strong reliance interests, throw the structure of constitutional law applicable to the States into disarray, and serve no useful purpose.

Furthermore, to call Slaughter-House venerable is tenuous. It is almost universally reviled and disagreed with. But, reinvigorating the privileges or immunities clause need not necessarily upset the apple cart. The Respondents insist that PEtitioners argue that the entire Due Process Jurisprudence should be displaced. Such is not the case. In fact, Gura is very careful to say that the two doctrines can live side by side. The Pandora’s Box Respondent’s fear is not even hinted at by Gura and the Petitioners.

6. Sixth, Respondents also argue that the right to keep and bear arms should mean different things in different places, based on local concerns.

Firearms are designed to injure or kill; conditions of their use and abuse vary widely around the country; and different communities may come to widely varying conclusions about the proper approach to regulation. Although other approaches are possible and may be effective elsewhere, it cannot be concluded that easy and widespread availability of firearms everywhere is necessary to ordered liberty.

I have blogged about this elsewhere, but I reject the notion that the Constitution has a “geography clause.” A right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures should mean the same thing in Chicago as it does in Cheboygan. The Second Amendment should receive the same treatment.

7. Seventh, I’m not quite sure why, but the brief sees fit to discuss international gun control laws in England, Canada, and Australia.

The legal systems of England, Canada, and Australia each have their roots in the same English law as does this country, and each should be seen as a country in which “ordered liberty” is valued. Yet each of them imposes stringent regulations on firearms that would be impermissible or at least suspect under Second Amendment standards.

That these countries have a similar common law origin is largely irrelevant. Since our separation from the Queen two centuries ago, our nations have diverged in may aspects, especially in gun rights.

In summary, the Constitutional Law in this brief is at a real premium. It is mostly a policy argument about the dangers of legalizing guns, an argument that has been fought, and in my opinion, lost in Heller.

I’ll provide some more analysis later.

In a word, fail.