The decision by the third partisan branch of government is as reactionary as it is reprehensible. It embraces the odious position of the National Rifle Association that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun. It also embraces the terrible violence besmirching America.
A New York Times editorial, rightly denouncing the ruling as “wrong-headed and dangerous,” added: “This is a decision that will cost innocent lives, cause immeasurable pain and suffering and turn America into a more dangerous country. It will also diminsh our standing in the world, sending yet another message that the United States values gun rights over human life.”
It was a sad reversal of 70 years of Supreme Court jurisprudence declaring that the Second Amendment restricts the right to bear arms to a militia.
More than 36,000 Americans are shot to death each year while another 65,000 are wounded. Yet Justice Scalia declared that the Constitution does not permit “the absolute prohibition of handguns … used for self-defense in the home.”
One reporter, noting that for 22 years Justice Scalia seldom has written an opinion in high-profile cases because his views are so far out, called the gun decision his legacy. Some legacy.
Dissenting justices complained about Scalia’s reasoning. No wonder. It was irrational. Scalia and the four backward justices who joined his opinion wanted a result and made up reasons to justify it.
In dissent, Justice Stevens called the ruling “strained and unpersuasive.” The majority “would have us believe that more than 200 years ago the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons,” Stevens said.
Dissenting Justice Breyer added: “I cannot understand how one can take from the elected branches of government the right to decide whether to insist on a handgun-free urban populace in the city now facing a serious crime problem.”
Let’s hear no more denunciations of liberal judicial activism. The gun ruling was the quintessence of right-wing judicial activism. But the decision was not surprising coming from the Five Horsemen of Reaction.
The court this term sustained an Indiana voter photo ID law designed by Republicans for Republicans. It struck down the “millionaires amendment” to the federal campaign finance law.
The amendment lifted contribution limits for House of Representative candidates when their opponents spend more than $350,000 of their own money.
But the wealthy justices want the election playing field to be tilted in favor of the rich. The rich have a greater First Amendment than most people.
Justice Stevens rightly dissented, declaring that the amendment sought to reduce “the importance of wealth as a criterion for public office” and to counter “the perception that seats in Congress are available to the wealthiest bidder.”
Meanwhile, the court continues to nibble around the death penalty but refuses to abolish it as it should — and as civilized countries have done. It ruled that the death penalty for child rape violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
At least Stevens for the first time said the death penalty is unconstitutional, declaring it “patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment.” Unfortunately, it took him 32 years on the court to reach that wisdom.
In still another sour decision by the Five Horsemen of Reaction, the court reduced a $5 billion punitive damage award against Exxon Mobil to $500 million.
The New York Times editorialized: “This decision invoked a rule that it made up out of whole cloth: that in maritime cases punitive damages should be limited to the amount of compensatory damages.”
The numerous 5-4 rulings by the majority of politicians on the court are often made up of legal fictions.
The Exxon case began in 1989 when the supertanker Exxon Valdez hit a reef and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska.
Stevens had it right in dissent. He noted that it was irresponsible for Exxon to allow “a lapsed alcoholic” to pilot the ship through treacherous waters, “endangering all of the individuals who depended on the sound for their livelihoods.” The jury issued a judgment that expressed its “moral condemnation of Exxon’s conduct.”
Punitive damages, what the lawyers call “laying on the lash,” say: “Don’t do it again.” Unfortunately, the court doesn’t want to “lash” its beloved corporations.
This court term illustrates a terrible truth: tyranny of a judicial majority of five in a nation of 305 million.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.